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The Bright Lands

3.43  ·  Rating details ·  2,564 ratings  ·  676 reviews
The town of Bentley holds two things dear: its football, and its secrets. But when star quarterback Dylan Whitley goes missing, an unremitting fear grips this remote corner of Texas.

Joel Whitley was shamed out of conservative Bentley ten years ago, and while he’s finally made a life for himself as a gay man in New York, his younger brother’s disappearance soon brings him b
Hardcover, 480 pages
Published July 7th 2020 by Hanover Square Press
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Laurie NOOOOOOOOOO. Let me say that again....No. Absolutely not.
NOOOOOOOOOO. Let me say that again....No. Absolutely not.

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Average rating 3.43  · 
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 ·  2,564 ratings  ·  676 reviews

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Chelsea Humphrey
Oh ok, I see you John Fram. I've been begging for more unique and creative crime fiction for what feels like decades, and low and behold Stephen Queen is here and he has delivered! Funny story: I reviewed this book in my head back in February, and apparently thought I reviewed it here as well, but... SURPRISE! Alas, in my head it stayed. But that's ok because I'm here reviewing it now!

"His brother was not the first troubled football player to confide in Joel. All week in Manhattan he had thought
The more I think about this book the more I want to rave about this book. I finished this a few days ago now and I've been trying to figure out how to voice my thoughts on this. This is a horror/mystery/thriller novel about a gay man named Joel who is currently living in New York when he hears news of his younger brother going missing in the small conservative town in Texas where he is from. He decides to go back to this small town, and when he does, the horror begins.

I loved the tone of this b
Larry H
Jul 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
4.5 stars, rounded up.

Wow, what a ride this book took me on!

If Stephen King and John Boyne were to have a literary baby, it might resemble John Fram’s debut novel, The Bright Lands . But to try and compare it to something else does it an injustice—this is part mystery, part allegory, part social commentary, and part horror novel, with emotional heft to boot.

Joel Whitley couldn’t wait to flee his tiny Texas town after he was publicly outed during high school. But texts from his younger brother
Feb 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Dennis by: Chelsea Humphrey
The Bright Lands is hands down one of the best debut novels that I've ever read. This Stephen King meets Grindr horror novel will exceed any of your expectations.

Surrounding small Texan town Bentley, there lies a secret hidden deep within the town's history. Joel Whitley, a former resident of the town, has moved to New York to start his life over after growing up with the homophobic ridicule that he received as a teenager. His life isn't perfect, but as an adult he has been able to use that
At first, I was intrigued by The Bright Lands: a small town in Texas, missing teen(s), possible evil entities...I kind of expected it to be a modern take on Twin Peaks by way of Stephen King. Sadly, The Bright Lands never delivers on its intriguing premise. The writing leaves a lot to be desired, the dialogues are at best clumsy and at worst embarrassingly clichéd, the characterisation is sparse and tends to rely on tired stereotypes, the storyline is unfocused and unnecessarily convoluted, and ...more
Jul 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Elle by: Dennis
Shelves: 2020, author-is-nice
Say hello to the Thriller of the Summer!

There’s something terrifying in Bentley, Texas. Or is it something terrorizing Bentley? In this small football town with secrets to spare, there’s just as much menace lurking in the shadows as walking the streets in broad daylight.

After ten years, Joel Whitley has found himself back home at last. Concerned by the panicked messages he received from his younger brother, Dylan, Joel makes his less-than-triumphant return to the place that all but ran him out
Tucker  (TuckerTheReader)
Mar 23, 2020 added it
Recommended to Tucker by: Dennis

Many thanks to Harper Audio for the free audiobook in exchange for an honest review
There are many who pretend to despise and belittle that which is beyond their reach.

For the third time in my reviewing career, I am leaving a book unrated because there are no ratings that feel fair to this book. I originally decided four stars but then went down to three stars and then all the way down to two stars but after drafting this review, I realized that I didn't stand by any of those ra
Aug 22, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: public-library
The small town of Bentley, Texas is crazy about their high school football team in a Friday Night Lights sort of way.  The players garner plenty of adoration from the town folk.  Sidewalks are rolled up early on game nights so that everyone can attend.  As the team readies itself to vie for a championship, the excitement of the town is at a fever pitch.  It's not the time for the star quarterback to disappear.  

This was to be a mashup of horror and suspense/thriller.  Several other reviewers hav
Frank Phillips
Aug 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Well, that's was about the most heartbreaking ending I could have imagined :( What an AMAZING tale this book told! I loved it, yet hated it, because as much as a fictional paranormal-thriller-mystery-suspense novel can, this reminded me very much of my childhood as a closeted queer adolescent growing up in a rural community in northwestern Oklahoma, much like the fictional town of Bentley, TX in this book. It reminded me of the gossip, fear and judgement of anything remotely different, and just ...more
Sep 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a very difficult book to review.

I really liked it. I applaud the author for having the courage to write a story that provides a closer look at what it means to be gay in small town America - a football town no less. I thought it was very well written and the concept was very creative and has an important narrative of what it means to acknowledge your true self. I think it's also worth noting how much it must mean to the LGBT community to have this out there in the world. I'm sure the bo
Jul 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Such a propulsive read. I burned through the last 250 pages in one sitting.
Jan 14, 2021 rated it it was ok
Shelves: audio
Well, no one could ever say they saw that ending coming!
Unfortunately for me, I found it completely and utterly unbelievable that so many people would be complicit, so that killed it for me. I'm also not entirely sure I fully understood the ending, as it was chaotic and difficult to follow. Lots of POVs and similar characters also added to the confusion.
2.5 stars
Oct 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Broken men and frightened men. A missing shirt, a bloody jacket, a bloody sock. Escort ads and drugs and dick pics, oh my. Bag boys, old boys, golden boys, gone. A hate crime or a love crime. A shallow creek, an iron slab, a pit.
A warning etched with the point of a knife: GET OUT NOW FAG.

I slept on this one for quite a while, but in my defense, I saw football and switched off before reading anything else. The book description doesn't entirely do it justice in any case - though it made for a very
Janelle Janson
Firstly, if you’re not following on Instagram (@john.fram) I don’t even understand what you’re doing with your life. He is the sweetest person, and he wrote a wildly fantastic debut. It’s perfect for summer reading and will take your mind off the world around us.

There is a full cast of characters to follow, and the book itself is nearly 500 pages, but don’t let that intimidate you. The story moves along quickly, and there is never a dull moment. THE BRIGHT LANDS utilizes a slew of fantastic comp
Shaun Hutchinson
This book was...strange. It reminded me of Christopher Rice's A Density of Souls.

I thought the town and the oppressiveness was handled really well. The writing was good, the obsession with football was spot on. The pacing kept me turning pages. If the end of the story had been just about a small-minded town burying its gays, I think I would've enjoyed it more. However...

That ending(view spoiler)
Isabel • The Crime Bookshelf
Apr 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
4.5 STARS.

Thank you so much to John Fram and Hanover Square Press for the gifted ARC of THE BRIGHT LANDS! WOW this was such a fantastic debut novel 🙌🏼 If you guys love amazing and spooky character driven novels, you definitely need to check this one out when it releases JULY 7th!

My favorite thing about this book was how real the story and characters felt. This book did an amazing job at fleshing out all of the characters and making them feel so realistic and relatable 👌🏼 I also really enjoyed
Jordan (Jordy’s Book Club)
Apr 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
QUICK TAKE: Friday Night Lights but with an LGBTQ+ twist. I know others are going nuts for this one, and I really enjoyed 75% of it, but the ending kinda took me out of it. I was here for the moody and atmospheric, the grounded horror story of a gay man returning to his southern homophobic hometown to find his missing brother and confront the monsters of his youth (both literal and figurative...). The mystery kept me invested and intrigued, but the expansive cast of characters and "balls-to-the- ...more
Rachel (TheShadesofOrange)
3.5 Stars
This was a well written slow paced character driven mystery novel that centered around a small town filled with secrets and deep-seeded prejudice. The story highlighted the ugly realities of hate crimes that are committed against gay people. I was intrigued by the story at first, but it failed to fully hold my attention and, admittedly, I was disappointed by the ending. 
Jun 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
4 stars

You can read all of my reviews at

This book is a creepy, weird mixture of mystery/suspense and horror - a combination that works surprisingly well. I couldn't stop reading it, even though part of me didn't want know anything more about what happens and just wanted to go on about my life.

The town of Bentley is a typical Texas small town. Young and old alike - their entire world revolves around high school football. As a gay man growing up in southern Tex
Chandra Claypool (WhereTheReaderGrows)
Police corruption, small town secrets, peer pressure, homophobia, racism and misogyny - these are a few topics you can expect to be brought up in this wonderful debut novel by Fram. This suspenseful thriller with light horror undertones is one to put on your TBR. Don't let the page count dissuade you - each page is necessary to tell this enthralling tale set in a small town in Texas.

This book hooked me right from the beginning, then tapered off while building its suspense and then explodes at th
Feb 25, 2020 rated it it was ok
This story is Friday Night Lights redux horror style. The book was written like a YA with unneeded overdone cuss words. There were sex scenes that were too intense and wasn't warranted for this story, on that basis it was written like erotica, which I have never read. It was everywhere and never quite sure what it wanted to be. ...more
Jessica Woodbury
Is the Horror/Mystery mashup going to be a thing? Because I would very much like that to happen. Let's do that.

If you are looking for a big, fat horror novel, one with a deep, lurking evil in a small town, this book will give you that. If you would like that book but also want a book about the horrors of high school football in a Texas town where somehow the worst thing you can possibly be is a gay man, but also the entire culture is centered around a sport where men in tight pants push up again
Sadie Hartmann
Jun 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars rounded up to 4 for Goodreads
Fram's debut novel resonates on a personal level. My hometown nestled in the Sierra Nevada Foothills had an unhealthy obsession with High School football. Our small-town community rallied around anything and everything having to do with the football team, but little else.
Playing for the team was like a badge of honor; an instant boost into the popular-kids sub-culture at school. All the other extracurricular activities were shadowed by the eclipsing glory o
Apr 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
"I’m going to make a bold statement, and I promise you it’s not hyperbole: with The Bright Lands John Fram has written a better Stephen King novel than King himself has in over a decade. I know, I know; but hear me out…"

Read my review in full at
Follow @whatjamesread on Instagram.
Cody | CodysBookshelf
hey, i’m hating this. fuck it.
LoneStarWords Deb Coco
I always open my reviews with a quote, and so it's never good when I can't find even one to share. So we will start there.

I had some high hopes for The Bright Lands but it did not turn out well. I feel strongly that this book bit off way more than it could chew, and tried to be too many things. You've heard lots of reviews state it is "Beartown meets Friday Night Lights" and for the first 1/3, I'd say that I maybe got a twinge (a very, very, very tiny twinge) of the Beartown comparison. But the
Aug 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It’s an absolutely wonderfully told story with crime fiction mixed with horror straight out of your worse nightmares. My kind of book in every way possible. We visit the conservative Texas town of Bentley where the residents live, eat and breathe Friday night high school football. I’m not taking about being average ‘fans”…I’m taking about overwhelming, over-the –top obsession. They would do literally anything for the players and very soon they will get a chance that they never in their worse nig ...more
Laura Peden
Jul 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The Bright Lands is one of the most impressive debuts I’ve ever read. All the comparisons to Friday Night Lights meets Twin Peaks or Supernatural are spot on. This book is not going to be for’s Queer Horror, but I absolutely loved it. John Fram’s newly given nickname, Stephen Queen, is so accurate! His writing is character driven & lets just say he’s not afraid to go THERE...I can’t wait to read what he writes next.
Sep 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: released-2020
Ratingwise, this is somewhere between a 3 1/2 and 4 stars for me. 3 1/2 feels too weak and 4 feels too generous, so make of that what you will.

The Bright Lands and I were off to a rough start. I'm not sure if it was my mood or just the book, but I had a tough time getting into it. The writing made it super hard for me to really connect with the (large cast of) characters, and I felt that they were all very one-dimensional, with one or two traits that were supposed to form a person. It was rather
Becky Spratford
Mar 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
Review in the June 2020 issue of Library Journal and on the blog:

Three Words That Describe This Book: supernatural mystery, shifting pov, terrifyingly realistic

Draft Review:

Bentley, Texas loves its football, and when star quarterback, Dylan, contacts his older brother, Joel, their unsettling conversation leads Joel back to the town where his personal demons still thrive. But when Dylan goes missing, it quickly becomes apparent that something even more sin
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I'm John Fram, a lapsed Texan and debut author of the supernatural thriller THE BRIGHT LANDS, due out in July 2020 from Hanover Square Press. Josh Malerman, author of Bird Box, describes it as "absolutely enthralling," Christopher Golden calls it "compelling as hell," and Edmund White (the one and only) calls it "Gothic, Faulkernian...and very, very sexy." I'm just grateful a childhood spent playi ...more

Articles featuring this book

There’s nothing like picking up a debut novel and feeling like you’ve found your new favorite author. As the season comes to a close, we...
50 likes · 17 comments
“In all of his Instagram photos, Joel’s little brother had never once appeared to be anything but affable and handsome and casually, ruthlessly charming in the way of Southern boys who knew their towns were made for them.” 3 likes
“Kimbra had been around football long enough to understand that its players weren’t just boys throwing a ball: they were everything the men of this town used to be, or never were, the walking realization of every frustrated hope and squandered opportunity and dream.” 1 likes
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