Book Review: The Bright Lands

Author: John Fram

Published: 2020

Rating: 5/5

Dylan Whitley is the star quarterback in the rural Texas town of Bentley. He has a cheerleader girlfriend, the adoration of his fans, and respect in the community. There’s even a billboard with his face on it off the highway. He seems to have everything a young man could ever want. 

Dylan wants none of it. His gay older brother, Joel, lives in Manhattan and has done well for himself. One night while vacationing in Mexico, Joel gets a text from Dylan indicating he wants out of the town and wants to quit football altogether. Joel makes a plan to visit his brother and help him get what he wants.

Upon returning home, Joel is confronted with a troubled upbringing in an insular, deeply religious, and homophobic community where he was outed against his will in high school. Joel’s high school girlfriend, Starsha Clark, is now a sheriff’s deputy and he awkwardly runs into her his first night back at the Friday night football game. Joel’s reunion with Dylan is cut short when he learns that Dylan has perplexingly made plans for the weekend with teammates, KT and Jamal. 

Over the weekend Joel receives a series of text messages purportedly from his brother that cause his instincts to believe something is wrong. These suspicions are confirmed when Dylan doesn’t return home on Sunday with the other boys, and is later discovered murdered in a ditch.

The hunt for Dylan’s killer begins, but takes a wrong turn almost immediately when the lead detective focuses on Jamal as the main suspect. Joel and Clark suspect Jamal is being used a scapegoat, and begin poking around on their own. In doing so, they uncover not only Dylan’s secrets, but also the secrets of powerful people in town – secrets those people will kill to protect. 

The Bright Lands is a page-turning thriller that’s difficult to put down once you pick it up. Told from multiple points-of-view, Fram does a masterful job of creating mystery and intrigue throughout the entire novel, before a final reveal that made my jaw drop open. 

The novel also contains a supernatural element, which was the only thing I didn’t like about it. I thought the addition of this story arc was a bit superfluous and unnecessary given the twists-and-turns of the main plot line. 

All and all, this is one of my favorite books that I’ve read in 2022 and highly recommend it. 

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