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The Bright Sessions #2

A Neon Darkness

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Los Angeles, 2006. Eighteen-year-old Robert Gorham arrives in L.A. amid the desert heat and the soft buzz of neon. He came alone with one goal: he wants to see the ocean. And Robert always gets what he wants.

At a very young age, Robert discovered he had the unusual ability to make those close to him want whatever he wants. He wanted dessert instead of dinner? His mother served it. He wanted his Frisbee back? His father walked off the roof to bring it to him faster. He wanted to be alone? They both disappeared. Forever.

But things will be different in L.A. He meets a group of strange friends who could help him. Friends who can do things like produce flames without flint, conduct electricity with their hands, and see visions of the past. They call themselves Unusuals and finally, finally, Robert belongs.

When a tall figure, immune to their powers, discovers them, the first family that Robert has ever wanted is at risk of being destroyed. The only way to keep them
all together is to get his powers under control.

But control is a sacrifice he might not be willing to make.

256 pages, Hardcover

First published September 29, 2020

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About the author

Lauren Shippen

8 books590 followers
Lauren Shippen is a writer most known for her work in fiction podcasts. She was the creator and sole writer of the popular audio drama The Bright Sessions, which ran from 2015 to 2018. She went on to executive produce The AM Archives and co-produce Passenger List before founding Atypical Artists, a company dedicated to audio storytelling. Most recently, she wrote MARVELS, an audio adaptation of the popular comic, set for release later this year by Marvel and Stitcher.

Lauren was named one of Forbes 2018 30 Under 30 in Media and one of MovieMaker Magazine and Austin Film Festival’s 25 Screenwriters to Watch. Her first novel, The Infinite Noise, will be released through Tor Teen in September 2019. Shippen grew up in New York, where she spent most of her youth reading and going to Panic! at the Disco shows. She now lives in Los Angeles, where she does the same thing.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 280 reviews
Profile Image for J  (Midnight Book Blog).
161 reviews551 followers
February 15, 2023
I think there is an audience that will really enjoy this book, but it doesn’t include me.

Let me start by saying, although this is labeled as a standalone, if you haven’t either listened to the Dark Sessions podcast or read the first book, I recommend doing that first. A Neon Darkness was my introduction to the world, and I feel that was one of the biggest things stopping me for really enjoying it. This book is also labeled as an “origin story,” and without the word “hero” or “villain” in front of it, I thought it would just be the main character’s story of growth in general. Let me tell you, that is the farthest thing from the truth. Do NOT go in to this expecting character development from anyone. At all.

I really, really disliked Robert from the start. At first I understood that he was struggling with his power (to make others want what he wants), and empathized a bit. It was an interesting twist to have a character who gets everything they want, but still isn’t happy. However, when it became clear that Robert’s arc wasn’t going anywhere, I was extremely disappointed. Neon, Indah, and the others just keep having the same “don’t use your powers on us” argument with him over and over, which eh would then ignore, and it got really tedious and repetitive.

Which leads me into my next issue: nothing really happens in this book, besides that same argument. The villain is very bland, and there isn’t really any resolution or point to his story (though I am not sure if this is another element that would be solved by having prior exposure to the Dark Sessions). Even the final confrontation with him in the book seems inconsequential. I was left going wait, that was it? That’s what the entire story was building to?

The only real bright spot in the whole book for me was the diversity. We have POC, Muslim, and LGBT representation which I really enjoyed (although I am not able to speak to the accuracy/sensitivity of all of the portrayals). All of the characters, with the exception of the MC were fairly interesting. However I couldn’t fully appreciate them because of Robert. I would have much preferred a novel about the tough, caring, and kick-butt quad (Neon, Marley, Indah, and Alex).

I never enjoy giving books poor ratings, but this one took me 8 whole days to get through. It felt so, so long at only about 250 pages. That being said, if you are already immersed in the Dark Sessions, this may be worth giving a go.

Intended audience: Young adult
Content warnings: sexual assault, drug abuse

Click here to see my blog!

*ARC received in exchange for honest review
Profile Image for andrea ✨.
82 reviews48 followers
Want to read
February 17, 2020
now wait a DANG MINUTE. why was i out here thinking that this book was gonna follow the same characters and storyline as the first one???

i guess i was very mistaken on that. whooPS. i was really hoping i would get to see more of caleb and adam and i really went through the whole first book thinking there was going to be a sequel to their story but OH WELL i’m still excited for this book either way!

although now that i know there isn’t going to be a sequel to their story i’m realizing how many unanswered questions there are in the first book.... why does it now feel like the ending was almost,, rushed?? there are definitely some things i would have liked to have answered that i don’t think really were. damn.

Profile Image for Andy.
2,408 reviews190 followers
April 30, 2021
Thank you to MacMillan Audio for an ALC of this in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Y'all I still have no idea how to feel about this book! A Neon Darkness focuses on Damien's story. But before he was Damien, he was Robert Gorham running from his past and a power he doesn't quite understand. But in LA, Robert meets a group of Unusuals like him and he wants to be accepted into their group, so he is. But as the friends get to know each other, how much of it is real friendship and how much of it is Robert's will to belong.

This book makes it so easy to hate Damien. He is constantly messing up, which can be understandable, but he's refusal to learn and get better is so infuriating. Part of this is definitely because he's a white cis male and has privilege up the ass. Another part of it is his power and how it lets him use whoever he wants. I loved the friend group Damien was surrounded by, they were such an amazing group of people. I really hope we see more of them either in the podcast or in later installments of this series.

The main plotline of this book is Damien helping his new friends find one of their own, Alex. When they do finally find Alex, they learn he was kidnapped by some insidious organization that's trying to find more Unusuals and experiment on them. I wish this plotline had been explored more, it was terrifying and exciting.

Overall, I did enjoy this I think, but it was also frustrating. This book is definitely a character study of Damien and how he becomes the way he is in The Infinite Noise.
Profile Image for Alexx.
295 reviews62 followers
August 28, 2020
08.28.2020: WOOOHHHH. This was so good! Just like the the first book in the series, this was such a character driven story. We see the characters just talking to each other, trying to process their emotions, trauma, and other shit. More than ever, we see the main character slowly turning into the villain that he is. There's no high-stakes or super adventurous plot, instead we see a lonely, troubled kid looking for love and acceptance yet fails to see what these things truly mean. Also, I loved that this featured a diverse plot; a Black character, Asian characters, sapphic characters/relationship, gay and questioning characters.

In conclusion, yes, I loved this! Full review soon!

04.21.2020: My NetGalley request was just approved and I AM SO READY. I loved The Infinite Noise and I am just so excited for another Bright Sessions novel!

Also, can we take a moment to appreciate that wonderful cover?!

Find me elsewhere: Instagram | Twitter | Blog
Profile Image for Zimmy W.
611 reviews8 followers
July 19, 2022
Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

All in all, its a decent read - I liked the first book much better, but tbf the two books are vastly different in tone, plot beats, and characters, so it's like comparing apples to oranges. The book was a lot like the show You in that you can't help rooting for Damien even when he does questionable to downright evil things - but then you pull back and remember he's not a good guy and he was manipulating those around him.

I'm a big fan of the crew Damien surrounded himself with, and I hope we see more of the other Unusuals in book 3. But I also hope we get some kind of conclusion from Damien in book 3 as well - like maybe he'll finally be better or he'll die or something. I really also want to learn more about Isaiah and what he has done, and if it's the beginnings of what was mentioned in book 1. Will all of this get addressed and wrapped up by book 3?

I think fans of the podcast series probably have a better grasp of these plot points (holes?) than I since I haven't listened. But regardless, it's meant to stand independent of the podcast, and thus I hope book 3 shows that it can and will.
Profile Image for Raf.
216 reviews11 followers
September 1, 2020
✨✨8.5 stars out of 10✨✨
God... My heart... It hurts so much :(

Keywords: science fiction, slice of life, superpower, found family, morally grey, young adult, LGBT+, muslim representative, POC representative; trigger warning: mental health and slight mention of suicidal thoughts

I get an e-ARC of this book from Netgalley, as an exchange of honest review.

Even though it's a second book, storywise A Neon Darkness is prequel from The Infinite Noise. The Infinite Noise is the first book of Bright Sessions series. While the first book is light and cheery and full of love, this book is more emotional, dark and depressing. This book tells about Robert Gorham, or Damien, a boy with a superpower to make people get what he wants. Even so, his life is not easy and all his life he can't seem to get what he actually really want: to be loved as what he is. Those things change when he meet people with superpower similar to him. But will it ever last?

Because I got this ARC, I also bought the first book and I thought it's moderately good and I quite like the first book. Turns out now I like this series very much because I significantly like A Neon Darkness better and I want to know what will happens to the characters later on. Here's what I like about this book:

- Morally grey but relatable character we can sympathize with
Damien is not a hero. He is not righteous, what he did most of times are questionable. What he did some other time are exactly wrong. Some people might even think he is villain. But he has reasons to the way that he is. And reading this I can sympathize with him, with his past and with his decisions. He's so lonely and sad, his power is complicated and he's struggling to control it. I just wish he would find happiness someday :')

- Cool, charming characters (and diverse too!)
I think the characters in this book is quite diverse, there is Indonesian character, a bipoc i think, and people from various orientation from gay, lesbian, to bisexual. They are all cool and quite memorable, especially Neon. They're also have strong characterization and each of them get their spot in the story equally. They are also full of flaws and very humane. There's a moslem representative in here that's also lesbian, has tattoos, and an Indonesian. I think for some people, the part about her religion is unnerving, though I myself don't mind it. Yes moslem women who're also lesbian exist, even in my country and I know some of them. Yes, people can practice religion differently, regarding what they believe.

- This book is emotional rollercoaster and there's found family trope
There's also found family trope in this book and the theme of this book relies heavily on that. The loneliness, the longing to be accepted by somebody, the joy of having people who can understand you, who can love you and whom you can call as home... Those really strikes me right in the gut. Lauren Shippen is really good at making us feeling what the characters feel. So much emotions, especially when the book ends.. I feel raw and really sad reading this. I always love a book that invokes so much emotions in me.

I like the moral values
It isn't blatantly telling you in the face but there are some messages that we can take home from reading this. Like about trusting people, about not comparing our sadness with others and invalidating theirs, about making peace with the past, etcetera.

What I don't like:
- I don't find anything I don't like in it, but.....
I don't find what I don't like from this book. Nothing rubs the wrong way to me. But for some people who expect more, who expect more plot, more character developments etcetera, it's not the book they will like. And I think not everyone will like Damien, some might feel he is wrong, he is villain and what he did are not justified because he doesn't seems trying to be better. As for the narration, it is sub-par. The pace is moderate to fast and the plot, to be honest, is not really that impressive. But as I said, Lauren Shippen is really good at invoking emotions.

It's pretty good, just not excellent. I want to recommend this book, I like this book a lot, but I'm not sure others will like it too. It's those hit or miss situation, either you will like it or not. As for the series itself, no need to read it before diving into this book because it can be read as a standalone and not much really change if you read the first book beforehand.
March 31, 2022
Oh, Damien. The most complicated character of The Bright Sessions--so easy to hate, and yet you always want to give him just one more chance, no matter how badly he messes up. (At least, that's how it was for me? We love an antagonist with a tragic past who just wants to be loved.) With this book, Lauren Shippen has even more thoroughly fleshed out his character by expanding on his back story: what happened with his parents (something hinted at in the podcast but elaborated on more deeply here), how he found the Atypical community, and most importantly, why he is so dang bad at human connection. It doesn't try to paint him as a better person, because he isn't a good person, but it highlights his complexity. And you don't exactly feel bad for him, because he makes so many obviously bad choices (as anyone who has listened to The Bright Sessions can confirm, this does not change over time), but you do pity him and the difficult position his ability put him in from the beginning.

While The Infinite Noise is a love story with a plot that tracks the evolution of a relationship, A Neon Darkness is almost exclusively character-driven; it has some plot points, especially some major action at the end, but it meanders more in getting there, mostly following Damien's inability to learn from his mistakes (or, rather, how he often knows better but doesn't act better, if that makes sense). It also lacks the hopeful, warm-and-fuzzy optimism of its predecessor. It has all the trauma, maybe more, but without the healing. These distinctions are fitting, given the nature of Damien's character--in so many ways, he is the inverse of Caleb (The Infinite Noise's protagonist). I note this, though, because people who liked those elements of TIN will not find them here. They will, however, find plentiful queer representation, mental health discussion, and sarcastic narration, rendered with Shippen's signature conversational-yet-emotional style.

I need to emphasize this: If you haven't listened to The Bright Sessions, this might not be as impactful, and its narrative purpose might seem less clear. Held on its own, it's basically a story of a young man constantly self-sabotaging in his quest to find connection--just a lot of angst with an ambiguous endgame, not quite enough payoff, and no real growth. But if you're already familiar with the world of The Bright Sessions, if you know how Damien turns out a decade after the events of this narrative, this story hits hard--the lack of growth is kind of the point. I felt a visceral wrenching inside as I saw these layers of Damien's psyche unfold, because his past so strongly foreshadows his interactions with Joan, his fear of the AM, his feelings toward Mark, and his generally terrible life choices. You still won't forgive him for what he does, and this isn't a redemption arc by any means, but you'll understand how he got to where he is, and it will hurt. And you will love it.

Final notes: fans of the podcast will find Easter eggs in this book for The AM Archives and The College Tapes. I suggest reading this one after the original series, but you should DEFINITELY read it before The College Tapes. Whether you do it before, during, or after The AM Archives is up to you, but it gives some really important context for TCT.

Rep: bisexual male MC, Black bisexual female SC, Muslim sapphic SC [someone please correct me if I mislabeled Neon or Indah's sexualities; I'm writing this a while after reading the book], Asian male SC

TW/CW: suicidal ideation, mind control, parental abandonment, nonconsensual kiss, nonconsensual experimentation, kidnapping, mentions of drug abuse
Profile Image for Mimi.
316 reviews118 followers
March 21, 2021
Don't forget to check out my blog!

[I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book I was kindly given by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

Robert Gorham has a superpower we'd all probably die to have - people do what he wants. Literally. This story is marketed like a typical superhero novel - a guy with special abilities comes to town, meets other guys with special abilities, and they fight evil together. Well, that's not at all what A Neon Darkness is.

It explores topics deep enough to really mess up and yet - Lauren Shippen doesn't. She's one hell of a writer, I have to admit. However, even though the writing was excellent and the themes discussed were taken apart in a fascinating manner, I can't say I was in love with the rest of the book.
When we start out, we see that Rob is basically a bad person - or, at least, a very selfish one with a heavily damaged moral compass. Who or what is to blame is up to discussion, but that doesn't change the facts. He is a crappy person. With the fact that this book is character-driven for the most part, you'd expect something of a redemption arc, right? I definitely did. And you guessed, right, there was no redemption arc. Sure, there was development - but the place we ended up at is basically the same as when we started.
I was also disappointed with the fact that they didn't really explain why Blaze was held at this facility, because that was a part of the plot many things revolved around, and it sucked that we didn't really get an explanation.

All in all, this was a super interesting read, but nothing memorable. I'd recommend this to you if you think you'd like this kind of a book. I can't even recommend it to a category of readers, to be honest. It's just unique and all you have left is to pick this up and see for yourself!

→3 stars
Profile Image for Lance.
472 reviews144 followers
September 27, 2020
E-ARC provided by the publisher (Tor Teen) through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All quotations are not final. Thank you so much!

"I want that affection so badly, but in the cold light of day, that desire feels unseemly. I hate that dark little part of me that craves comfort, craves a soft hand and a warm body, but as much as I despise it, I can't destroy it. It rules me, and I rule everyone else."

"It's more power, more satisfying control, than I've ever experienced in my life, and it is completely intoxicating. I want to see how they fall, how they fly. All I have to do is ask. I tell them to jump."

"The open, endless road. Infinite roads to go down, each and every one of them open. That's the beauty of being Damien. There isn't a single road in the world that he can't drive on.

4 stars. A Neon Darkness offers a look into the mind of a character I am equally disgusted and sympathetic towards, a cocktail of emotions I didn't think I'd ever feel when I thought of our main character, Robert Gorham or as he is better-known, Damien. Perhaps due to his power and the way it's warped his character, Damien has always been a character I've always found interesting at the very least: this book tells the story of how he got to be the character he is in The Bright Sessions podcast. Just like the first book in this series of spin-off novels, I'd highly recommend listening and finishing to The Bright Sessions podcast before reading this novel although it technically be read without it.

Just like in The Infinite Noise, I'd say that the strongest part of this novel is characterization. Based off these two novels alone, Shippen clearly has a knack for diving into the deep layers, psyche, and most of all, the emotions of her main characters. This book is told, mostly, from Damien's first person POV with the occasional flashback from his POV or passage from another character told in third person. There was something so compelling about him as a character, just based off his power and the way it impacts a narrative. He's a character who, as a result of his power to impose his will onto others, has never had anyone say "no" to him and thus, has never learned to understand the intrinsically mutual nature required for positive relationships between people. But more than that, his power has also left him bereft of understanding of his own needs or at the very least, enabled him to ignore them even when directly pointed out to him. More than all of that, he is just a young boy looking for someone to love him not because he wants them to, but of their own volition. Damien is a character, who under Shippen's careful pen, is at his most compelling even at his lowest.

Shippen's prose acts as not only the second best facet of this novel, but also the primary conduit through which she gets the reader to understand if not sympathize with Damien. The strongest quality of her writing is undoubtedly her ability to express emotion with a type of poetic clarity I've rarely seen before. I'd describe the way Damien's emotions are described in this novel as akin to the sensation of drinking sparkling wine: liquid gold on the outside, but with a bitter aftertaste. Her writing strikes the perfect balance between showing his thoughts and the insidiousness undercurrent that underlies even the brightest of them. It is because of the way Shippen uses her prose in this narrative to tie Damien and his often conflicting emotions to the reader that she is able to somehow get the reader to both empathize and hate Damien, in equal measure.

Those two aspects aside just like in her previous book, the plot/external stakes of this book falls short. Yes, there is an external problem that the characters of this novel must deal with but it just lacks any sort of urgency. The main villain had the potential to be a much bigger threat than they ultimately were and one event in particular seemed a bit too convenient. I'd liken the book almost to the quality Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven Cycle has, where the plot is thin but read on because the characters and their intricacies have caught your attention and refuse to let go. Ultimately, I think you have to go into any of The Bright Sessions novels with the expectation that they aren't so much about any outside conflict, but are more character studies that invite the reader along to follow a character, their emotional progression, and character development.

Conclusively, a surprisingly solid and compelling second book in Shippen's spin-off series. If you're a fan of The Bright Sessions and haven't picked up either of the books in this series, I'd encourage you to do so as the books provide an even more intimate lens through which to view some of the best characters from the podcast.

Profile Image for Joe.
126 reviews28 followers
September 29, 2020
A Neon Darkness by Lauren Shippen
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

Having gotten into the world of Bright Sessions after reading The Infinite Noise, this was a book I instantly anticipated once I found out about its release. Thanks to NetGalley and Lauren Shippen, I got to read it five months before its official release and I’ve got a lot to say about it. You can read it as a standalone but you probably won’t see the full scale of the development (or sort of reversed development) of Damien if you are not familiar with him already and you won’t feel the impact of finding out his origin story.

When it comes to plot, there is admittedly not much of that. I consider this book to be more of a character study but I’ll get to that later. Whatever there is of a plot is simple and easy to follow with hints of what the universe of the Bright Sessions is about. Even if you are not familiar with it though, you can still be engaged by the story. The atypicals in this book are called by the main characters as unusuals. Much like a reader who has no idea what’s going on with the special powers these people have, the protagonist thinks he is alone in this and that there are not others like him but soon discovers that he is in an X-Men sort of world and what we see in this book is only scratching the surface of that. It’s interesting enough to keep the pace up and keep you going non stop.

Like I said before, what really affected and touched me in this book was the characters. I will never get over how much of a grey character Damien is and how complex and multi-layered. For those who are not aware, Damien has the ability to make people around him want the same thing he does and manipulate them that way. That sounds pretty cool right? For the user itself that is. But you actually see how much it has actually ruined him, how it has affected him and his view of the world since he can’t control it (or doesn’t seem to be able to). You can’t help but sympathize with him. This book towards the end starts feeling much like a villain origin story only you are not even sure how to feel about Damien in the end. Throughout the story, there were so many times I understood how he felt, I thought that in his place I would had probably acted the same way. Subjects on morality are touched and it’s all so complicated that you don’t know how to feel in the end. As for the other characters, they are all so well written and it’s obvious that there has been a lot of thought put into them. Marley was definitely my favourite because I have a weak spot for tough looking guys that are actually big softies and basically the mom of the group. They were also diverse as hell and there were a few times when the issues of racism and sexism were touched.

The way Damien manipulates others' wants feels as if it’s actually affecting you as a reader as well. There is a found family trope that is so heart-warming but it ends up ripping your heart out and leaving you wondering about many things and mostly how this reflects actual relationships in the real world. Someone can be controlling and manipulative and a toxic friend even if he or she doesn’t have literal powers that control you. It’s been a while since I read a book with a moral and that actually makes you think about it.

If you read this book and it does not convince you to get in the world of bright sessions then I don’t know what will. It’s obvious that the author knows how to build great characters and plot. If you are one of those that had – rightfully so – been complaining about lack of diversity and good, quality content in books, then this one is a must-read.
Profile Image for Lu .
345 reviews34 followers
July 18, 2020
I received this book from NetGalley in exchange of an honest review. A HUGE thanks to Macmillan- Tom Doherty Associates, Tor Teen for the chance to read this book.

A neon darkness is the second Bright Session novel and, since I loved The infinite noise so much, I was over the moon when my request got accepted.

A neon darkness focus on Robert Gorham (Damien, who was introduced briefly in the first novel) and his power and life. Robert has the power of persuasion. He can get anything he wants, people have to do anything he desires and he lived, apparently, a blessed life, not having to pay for anything, getting luxorious cars, living in wonderful mansions, eating expensive food.
But his power can be a curse, too, since he struggles to find people able to understand him, truly understand him. When his wandering bring him to Los Angeles, Robert meets Indah at a bar where she works and this meeting will open a new world for him. Introduced to Neon and Marley, Robert discovers they have peculiar powers too and they call themselves Unusuals. Indah is able to sense other Unusuals, Neon can use electricity, Marley can see people's past.
Naming him Damien, they welcome him in their lives and world, while trying to discover what happened to their friend Blaze, pyrokinetic, who is missing. But while he's happy not to be alone, able to be understood and to have a family, Damien is struggling to keep his power under control. And he's not ready to do this sacrifice.

A neon darkness is intense, brilliant and I loved everything about the world Lauren Shippen created. Damien is a skillfully complex character and it's impossible not to feel empathy and compassion for him.
He's lonely, hurt and his past and power burden him, leaving him lost and unable to connect to anyone, his power both a blessing and a curse. His desire to belong and be part of something is absolutely understandable and he's a grey character.
A "villain", because with his power he's able to control people, manipulating them and depriving them of their free will, but at the same time it's difficult not to feel compassion and empathy for him, wanting him to be better, to be understood, to find someone able to help him be better and belong.

The found family the author created is beautiful and the characters are amazing, brilliant and complex, as the main one. Indah with her sweetness and stubborness, Neon with her strength and vitality, Marley with his seriousness and energy, Blaze with his struggles and intricacy. Robert/Damien finds himself involved in their family and the way they are so fiercely ready to do anything for each other is empowering and touching. They are protective of each other and they love so much, but when Damien's power starts to be too much the balance between them all is cracked.
The introduction of Isaiah and the mysterious organization is interesting and eerie at the same time, leaving the reader and the characters to wonder who are they, what do they want, where are they, a shadow on their lives.

The author created a world interesting, captivating and with complex characters, with their pasts, relationships, powers and motives, who move skillfully in their world, in Los Angeles with its energy and life, loving, helping, supporting, having doubts about, one other.

A neon darkness is a book about a thrilling, but dangerous power and its consequences,about family, friendship, free will, accountability, want and belonging to something and someone.
Told, mainly, by Robert/Damien's POV, with some flashbacks and entries by the other characters, A neon darkness is a captivating book, able to capture the reader's attention until the end, leaving him/her/them thinking about want and consequences, compassion, empathy and more about the characters' lives.

I loved reading this book, but I found it a bit slow sometimes, so I'm gonna give it 4.5 stars
Profile Image for iam.
972 reviews130 followers
September 27, 2020
Oof, this was exactly as frustrating and twisted as I expected it to be – and unfortunately just as unsatisfying character-development wise.
Definitely stays true to it’s subtitle “What if the villain of your story is you?”

Read the full review on the blog!

Content warnings include: abduction, electrocution, murder, internalized fatphobia, underage drinking and drug use, theft, unconsensual kissing, coercion. Mentions of: suicide attempt, torture, abandonment.

I received an ARC and reviewed honestly and voluntarily.
Profile Image for Sorrel.
22 reviews
April 8, 2021
*C/N: This review contains spoilers for both A Neon Darkness and The Bright Sessions*

Damien: How do you not get it? Look, I know you’re curious about me, Mark, so let me do what you want and tell you- I’ve lived my whole life with people doing what I want and then instantly regretting it. Do you know what that’s like? People having buyer’s remorse about you? (Mini episode 8, “September 30th, 2016”)

I’m gonna start this off by saying that this book made me go back and relisten to some of The Bright Sessions episodes, bingeread about 100k words of fanfiction in the span of a few days and just basically consume all the content I could get to really scratch that itch. So, thumbs up for making be fall back into one of my obsession holes (in a good way). I’m also going to refer and quote from the events in The Bright Sessions simply because I can’t untangle my feelings from Damien as I first met him there.

A Neon Darkness is about the formation of an identity; Damien – The Making Of is the supervillain origin story I have been terribly curious about (even though he’s mediocre by supervillain standards, let’s be real). In The Bright Sessions I couldn’t really figure out his motives when we first met him as a kinda weird annoying guy; then he makes grand mistake after grand mistake that ultimately ends with him becoming that unforgivable person he is at the end of season 4. I was always blown away by his morals and justifications for his actions (when we got to hear those), though in season 4 (specifically episode 48) where he has it all out with Mark, we get the final peek behind the veil as he says

Mark: Is that all you wanted?
Damien: What?
Mark: All you wanted was a friend. Someone to connect to.
Damien: What else would I have wanted?

And if I’m honest, I didn’t find that a very strong motivation after all considering all the stunts he had pulled by that point. But then again, we never really got to see his side of things as he doesn’t want us to. After A Neon Darkness, this bit in episode 48 just hits different.

I loved a lot of things about this book. Unreliable narrators are simply fun to read about, especially from a first person POV. The main character is arguably unlikable but you can emphasise (to a certain point). The Unusuals are an amazing friend group, I simply love each character in their own way (though Neon is my fav, hands down. Yes maybe it was Damien gushing about her that rubbed off, so what). The little inserts with their backstories were fun to read, especially because it’s interlaced with Damien’s own backstory. My favourite backstory bit is how Indah met Neon at a café and was immediately drawn to her – it’s short, it’s electric, it’s sweet and very, very relateable.
Sadly there’s a lot of unexplored plot here, simply because Damien didn’t really care/wanted to know/… and it’s written from his perspective. The whole Tall Man mystery, the immunity to Damien/everyone(?), the human experiments, the Unusuals’s other friends, Blaze being okay or not in the end – we don’t get to know that because Damien doesn’t really want to know, I guess.
I think on some level this book was also a love letter to LA. I very much do not care about big city life at all, and I guess that’s why the first third of the book had some weird pacing for me.

However, don’t be fooled, there is no found family trope in this book. This is a found family that gets forced to take in another member and maybe (?) splinters apart. Each also had friends outside of that group which they just didn’t see anymore for months simply because Damien didn’t want them to.

Watching Damien try to navigate interpersonal relationships was horrible. He’s desperately, achingly lonely and has massive abandonment issues; he latched onto the first people to show some interest in him. He wants to be trusted but not at the cost of sharing information about him because he doesn’t really trust anyone. He doesn’t understand boundaries of any kind even when he directly gets called out on that ca. 500 times during this book.
Witnessing him being called out was probably the most nerve-wrecking thing on the list. All the events leading to their repetitive arguments feel like steps on an escalation ladder. It’s always about his ability and he doesn’t figure out that he could WORK ON using it LESS (he does say he doesn’t even know if he could NOT use it), instead he doubles down on using his power even more. Marley even says so in the end, that they kind of trained him in a way, and not only because or while they were interrogating people on their search for Blaze. I knew I was gonna get exactly this kind of character development but it still hurt. The one beef I have with this book is that he’s a lot more insightful than I think he deserved to be at his age. Sometimes he literally thinks “hm I don’t know what I want” and clearly spells it out 2 paragraphs later. I think it would have been fine without those bits, especially because they make him seem hyperaware of his own emotional landscape, even though we know he’s completely out of touch with himself.

The narrative of The Bright Sessions is that even though you can’t separate the ability from the person, it is on the person to work on themselves in order to live relatively normal in a non-atypical society. There are similarly invasive abilities, like Marley’s, or mind-reading, dreamwalking, empathy … who all make the choice to respect people’s boundaries even though they’re conflicted about it. All of them figure out that prying people open and invading their privacy is not the right way to get along with people. Damien takes the exact opposite direction, working on his ability instead of working on respecting people’s wants.
I’d say he definitely has the potential to work on himself but that would mean separating his conscious wants, his subconscious ones and the ones of other people in his head. He says at some point that he can feel when a person is lying, and other times he can tell people’s intentions before they’re overridden by him. Even worse, he never works on evaluating his subconsciousness (I don’t think playing with therapists counts), though his subconscious wants get him into the worst interpersonal trouble. He doesn’t even notice Alex not going up in flames around him; he likes to make Marley smile but even tells Alex he isn’t sure it’s genuine. The best example is the scene with Neon where they’re talking about his past – he lets himself be vulnerable and honest after being shocked only a little, and by the end of the scene he even spells it out:
“I don’t know,” I say again quietly, the irony of it all hitting home. The boy whose wants infect everyone else can’t even articulate what he wants, even though it’s as simple as wanting to be wrapped up in someone’s arms. To feel loved. To feel safe, for just one goddamned second.
Which is, of course, exactly what happens and in the following scene he’s completely unsure again if he used his ability at all even when Neon tells him that he very much obviously did. It’s easily my favourite scene in the book because it shows how many layers of messed-up Damien is and how few things he’s able to admit to himself. Like the deep desire to be understood, held, feel safe and part of a group that cares about you is deeply human and nothing to be ashamed of. Though when the therapist he sees briefly points that out, Damien only sneers that he’s not human. Mark surely didn’t buy it when Damien admitted this as his motivation to him.

A Neon Darkness also shows how little Damien has changed in the years until we meet him again in The Bright Sessions. Like, he’s obviously still doesn’t understand interpersonal relationships or group dynamics, he’s still reluctant to share any information about himself, and his reactions are also still the same (e.g. lying low for a while until people eventually forgive him). On the more hilarious side, he still says stuff like “honey, I’m hooooome~~~” which still cracks me up, and still harasses therapists. The events in The Bright Sessions leave no space for any kind of redemption arc simply because of Damien not willing to change nor to dial down his power. In A Neon Darkness however, he has a ton of opportunities but again and again he chooses to use more power and manipulation, not less. It’s the saddest thing about this book because after The Bright Sessions I just shrugged about where he ended up because he manoeuvred himself neatly into a corner. The kid in A Neon Darkness though? I just want to grab him by the shoulders and shake some sense into him, like on every other page. I haven’t read a single well-done redemption arc fanfiction where Damien had his powers with their normal level – which probably says more about his specific type of ability than about his character. In episode 48 he even says
"Of course I tried! You had my ability for all of what, a week, Mark? Don’t pretend that you were perfect at it. That it wouldn’t eat away at you if you’d had it for your whole life.“
He admits that he sees himself as corrupted by power on some level, and in a way I reluctantly agree. To redeem this character, there’s dozens of versions where he’s either stripped from his power, where he doesn’t bounce back from the rebound event with Mark, where he’s run over while on the roadtrip, … but not a plausible in-character story where he still holds all the cards.

Another thing that stuck me was the inherent queerness of the narrative. Of course Atypicals themselves are a well-played queer metaphor (to an extent, it ends with physically dangerous abilities), and the issues surrounding the Atypicals we meet are sometimes a mirror of IRL queer people (how do I tell my family/partner etc). In A Neon Darkness, we got rejection by your parents, the “being all by yourself” kind of loneliness, chosen instead of legal names … and, what probably hurts most, conditional acceptance. Like of course Damien is aware in the Epilogue that, with his full ability, he just can’t be part of the friend group like that. Begging Neon to use electroshocks on him as some sort of sedation/therapy/???, was something else to read about.
On a less metaphorical level, the actual queer rep is as diverse and liberating as per usual with anything in The Bright Sessions universe. It was also delightful to discover that Damien is the “I am not immune to pretty people” flavour of bisexual, I felt … seen.

Anyways, this novel was an amazing backstory about how Damien became the dipshit we meet in The Bright Sessions. He was the kid who came to LA to see the ocean and could have made 154631 right choices and tried to enjoy things for the first time in his life; but it all goes so horribly wrong that in the end, he’s the guy you take out with lightning, a crowbar, your brain power or your fists.

“I got tired of wondering what people actually mean, what they actually want so I decided a long time ago that it doesn’t matter. If people don’t want me with them, then I will be above them. The power matters - it’s the one thing in my life that’s always been real. The power is mine and mine alone and it never lies. “ (Mini episode 8, “September 30th, 2016”)
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for tessie.
219 reviews46 followers
May 31, 2021

this book is meant to be a villain origin story and my villain origin story was how bad the bi rep in this was
Profile Image for indy.
124 reviews32 followers
February 8, 2022
my new favourite book. for real.
the queerness, the found family. all of it.
i needed this book in so many ways .... wow.
Profile Image for 🌜Elliot🌛.
155 reviews7 followers
December 13, 2021
I thought this was good but I was hoping it would explore Damien as a character more and that we would get to see how his mind works. In reality it was more about him meeting some people and eventually getting let down like what happened in the podcast. It was a bit too predictable for my taste, I didn’t really like the side characters, and I was hoping it was going to be a bit more dark and emotional like the podcast was. One thing I really liked though was the last chapter which was great and the moments of Damiens development that we did get to see.
Profile Image for Julia.
Author 1 book44 followers
October 14, 2020
You should probably listen to Shippen's podcast "Dark Sessions" before reading this book.

Anyway, I didn't enjoy the story. There's no character development. Neither the main character Robert, nor the secondary characters really develop over the space of the novel. The plot is very slow and repetitive.
Profile Image for Amanda.
1,934 reviews53 followers
September 22, 2020
[ I received a digital arc for an honest review]

A Neon Darkness
is the second book in The Bright Sessions series by Lauren Shippen. It's a queer YA fantasy about teens with abilities they can't control and a whole lot of baggage that they really need to work through.

Since I read book 1 in the series I will admit I had expectations. They weren't necessarily high, but I was hoping we would get more of the same characters. After I realized that wasn't the case I was still hoping for characters that would tug on my heart strings, like Caleb and Adam had, but sadly that expectation didn't happen. Lastly I expected some heavy emotional topics and that it did deliver on.

Our main character Robert is a spoiled, emotional mess of a being. I say 'being' because he doesn't act with human decency many times in the book. At first, I wasn't sure how I felt about him and then I couldn't help feel sorry for him but that quickly morphed into frustration and anger with his inability to accept responsibility for his actions, his constant pity party, and his lack of genuine remorse. The side characters, aside from their actions while being influenced by Robert, were likeable and interesting. It's was a diverse little group of friends all with their own unique abilities and struggles. Who , unlike Robert, attempted to control their abilities.

A highlight of the book for me were the flashbacks, which I don't ever find myself saying. Yet I really loved getting to see a glimpse from each side character of when they discovered their abilities. I also felt this installment in the series was much better paced. There was a steady stream of conflict throughout that had a build and climax that felt right.

All in all, while I enjoyed the characters in the first book more, A Neon Darkness was well written and get me turning pages no matter how frustrated I was with the main character. Seriously, If we have just removed Robert from the entire book it would have been much more enjoyable.
Profile Image for Julia Benassi.
Author 0 books99 followers
June 25, 2021
Los Angeles is where Damien was born. He grew here, took his first steps, made his first mistakes. But Damien isn’t someone who makes mistakes. He can’t afford to make mistakes anymore. If no one can accept him, if everyone he meets wants to make him out to be a controlling monster, then fine, that’s what he’ll be. He takes what’s his, just like this city taught him.

This is how a villain is born !!! El personaje de Damien me frustra y encanta simultáneamente y conocer su pasado???? Beautiful, gracias Lauren por eso.
BUT tengo algo triste que decir: este libro es un plomo. No me convence que no haya capítulos porque la historia se vuelve eterna y es una lástima porque la escritura mejoró un montón de TIN a AND, pero la estructura la tiró para atrás.
Igual average me entretuvo. El grupo de amigos me encantó (found-family fan here) y todos los personajes me parecieron increíbles y súper bien construidos, llenos de contradicciones y características que los hacían TAN humanos que lloro. Sin duda, Lauren sabe cómo escribir personajes so no veo la hora de leer Some Faraway Place y de tener todos los libros en físico y en hardback bye .
Profile Image for Martina.
332 reviews42 followers
September 25, 2020
3.75 stars

A Neon Darkness is presented as a stand-alone in this series, but I suggest you to read The Infinite Noise first to have a more solid introduction to this world inhabited by Atypicals. Moreover, I think that listening to The Bright Sessions podcast could give even more insights. I haven’t had the pleasure to listen to it yet, but after liking these two novels I’ll surely give it a try to discover more about these magnetic characters.
This one was a very enjoyable book and I loved how the concepts of Atypicals, friendship and power were here developed. Damien's origin story offers a lot of food for thought and it does glue you to the pages. I just would have loved it to be a bit longer.
July 18, 2022
This was such a dark, ugly and crushing book and I loved every page of it. All of the Unusuals were great characters and every one of them were so distinct. But the most impressive thing about this book is how complex Damien is, most of the time he's just kind of an angsty teenager, but there are some heartfelt moments here and there that make the reader feel a bit bad for him. And there are little bits and pieces of the villian he would grow up to become.
That being said, I'm not sure if someone who hasn't listened to The Bright Sessions would enjoy this book as much, I think Damien would just get on their nerves. But this book compelled me to re-listen to the podcast, so ya know.
Profile Image for Hadia.
269 reviews7 followers
May 22, 2023
*2.5 ⭐

the blurb basically gave away the whole plot and nothing special happened otherwise.
October 19, 2020
Honestly, anything Lauren Shippen writes at this point I’m going to buy without a second thought. I devoured The Bright Sessions with such a hunger that I didn’t think I had when it came to consuming content. But, I did. I raked through it with such a voracity that I could tell you every detail about most of the characters.

This book — about my favorite character (I think, it’s been a very hard struggle between Damien and Caleb) nonetheless — was such a delight and a horror to read all at the same time.

I had known throughout TBS that Damien was troubled, and had a rough life, and was maybe a little bit of a sociopath because of it. I hadn’t known the extent, and this book puts so much in perspective about him for me. Reading about him and his friends, and the way he handled them, and the way they handled him, was so jarring. Every turn I knew what Damien was going to do, because it was what he always did, but watching his internal struggle was my favorite part. Watching him grapple to understand pieces of himself that he didn’t really want to address, and watching him fumble through wanting a family but not knowing how to create one was so special. It takes a special kind of writer to be able to put that kind of emotion on the page, and she did.

If I could give it more than 5 stars, I would. Because this is an incredibly written masterpiece.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Anna.
1,334 reviews226 followers
January 6, 2022
Reread January 2022
This is my first reread of this since I have listened to the podcast and I did like it better this time around. I feel like it takes incredible skill as an author to write a book with an unlikable MC and have the reader feel empathy for them. It is no doubt that Damien is the bad guy of this entire series/podcast but you can't help but feel for him and attempt to figure out how difficult it would be to deal with the power like his.

Damian has the power to influence others by essentially making them want what he wants. Damien didn't have any sort of help or therapy or assistance growing up to deal with his powers like the other two MC's in this book series too. In book one Caleb is 16? and gets therapy and learns to adapt and live with his ability. In book three the MC comes from a family of unusuals and has the support she needs. Damien doesn't have any of that. He spent his life wondering why people didn't like him and couldn't understand why his parents did crazy things like jump off a roof to get the ball that he wanted right now or leave and never come back because he said he wanted them to leave. You feel bad for the kid that Damien was and in this book he's only like 18. It's hard to expect a teenager to understand life but when you add on an ability as complex and nuanced as Damien's, he's really just a kid still without any sort of support network.

The found family element of this book is still my favorite between Indah and Neon and Alex and Marley.

I did enjoy reading this after listening to the podcast episodes, especially after the college tapes and seeing Marley as a professor. I do still wish this book had more development and that we either get an epilogue of the friend group or of Damien after the fact. Preferably of the friend group since we do get more Damian content in the podcast and in Caleb's book.

Rep: questioning bi MC, multiple secondary queer characters including lesbian, pan, and gay rep

CW: suicidal thoughts, attempted suicide, murder, violence, manipulation, alcohol consumption, gaslighting, kidnapping, fire

Original review:
I feel conflicted. Maybe I need to listen to the podcast but since I loved the first book without having done so, I assumed I could do the same here. It's not that I didn't like this book, because I did. I enjoyed the writing and the friend group, even though the MC made me want to scream. It's definitely one of those stories with an unlikeable main character who gets on your every nerve but you cant help but root for them to learn and be better.

I feel like my biggest issue with this one was the unexplored plot. Like it felt as if it was going nowhere. The whole thing is that Robert finds this group of unusuals and "befriends" them and ends up helping them find their kidnapped friend who was apparently experimented on and such. It would've been cool to see that explored more.

The friend group of Neon, Indah, Marley, and Alex was the best part of this book and I'd love to see more of them.
Profile Image for Fieke.
336 reviews13 followers
May 7, 2020
A neon darkness, in contrast to the infinite noise, tells a story that takes place before the events in the bright sessions podcast.

It is the story of Damien, a young man with the ability to make people want what he wants. He can basically control people. It is the story of his childhood and the way he (tries to) make friends.

I think I liked this one more than the infinite noise, simply because it is more surprising. It also has a very different, darker, tone.

You read this story knowing where Damien is going to end up, knowing you don't really like him in the end, but it keeps you interested because you want to know HOW he is going to get there.

I really enjoyed reading about the group of 'unusuals' Damien met. Each of them had an interesting story and had very different views on their own powers. I loved the way they interacted with each other.
I also really liked the way they all called Damien out on being a privileged, assuming idiot. I liked their talk about sexuality and wealth. It is super easy to understand these characters and they just feel super real.
Here's a gem from Neon:

"She knows that if she didn’t have the face she had, if she didn’t wear leather jackets and ride motorcycles, there would still be the same bullshit to deal with. Maybe from a different source—she does seem to attract a very particular kind of sleaze—but life would never be quiet. Not for a woman who refuses to be anything but her loud self. Not for any woman in this world. It used to scare her, the attention. She’s always been too small and too black and too queer besides—life was never going to be easy for her. It was never going to be safe.

but most of the time, she stands up squarely to the men who try to intimidate her, and she smiles with the knowledge that she could bring them down with a flick of her wrist. Neon knows that there are plenty of people who look at her and assume she’s nothing to fear. She knows that the men who know the truth and stick around anyway are men she can trust."

Then there's Damien. Luckily this wasn't some tragic back story to justify every terrible thing he ever did. It was more of an explanation of who he is, though he might be a terrible person, I couldn't help but feel bad for him and want him to be happy. Even when you know it can't end well, you still have hope.

I do still think the description of this and the first book isn't really that accurate. It is more a summary of the podcast itself than the books.
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