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The Bright Lands

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Horror (2020)
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 back to a place he thought he’d escaped for good. Meanwhile, Sheriff’s Deputy Starsha Clark stayed in Bentley; Joel’s return brings back painful memories—not to mention questions—about her own missing brother. And in the high school hallways, Dylan’s friends begin to suspect that their classmates know far more than they’re telling the police. Together, these unlikely allies will stir up secrets their town has long tried to ignore, drawing the attention of dangerous men who will stop at nothing to see that their crimes stay buried.

But no one is quite prepared to face the darkness that’s begun to haunt their nightmares, whispering about a place long thought to be nothing but an urban legend: an empty night, a flicker of light on the horizon—The Bright Lands.

480 pages, Hardcover

First published July 7, 2020

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About the author

John Fram

2 books288 followers
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 playing video games and sweating in tall grass resulted in something worthwhile.

An accidental Manhattanite, I spend my free time practicing yoga, sweating on stationary bikes and gasping in movie theaters. I write, meditate and read every day, in that order. Follow my Instagram to see screenshots from old movies and excited posts about whatever book I'm currently loving. Follow my Twitter because apparently we still need one of those. And go to my website, where you can sign up for a monthly newsletter about old movies and exciting books, some of which I've written.

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5 stars
720 (17%)
4 stars
1,285 (31%)
3 stars
1,210 (29%)
2 stars
622 (15%)
1 star
207 (5%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 960 reviews
Profile Image for Chelsea Humphrey.
1,440 reviews78.1k followers
September 9, 2022
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 of nothing but a sticky summer afternoon a decade ago, of a truck cab spiked with the smell of spearmint, of a man with shocking green eyes and a bad neck shaking his head with the effort and saying, "Don't play that game if you can help it, Whitley." Joel would cut off an arm to ensure Dylan never suffered the same fate as that ruined man."

Imagine if Friday Night Lights and any one of Stephen King's stories had a lovechild, and you would probably end up welcoming a spunky little bundle of The Bright Lands. From the very first page, Fram has saturated the story with mystery, suspense, and a special brand of dread that grows with each breath of this tale. It's a dread that is both fantastical and allegorical. Typically I don't like my thrillers packaged in a 500 page count, but John has proven me wrong by showing me just how much this story needed the hefty chunk. This novel is meaty in more ways than one, 😏, and once you've finished the book you realize just how relevant the issues included, such as corrupt police, the continuing plight of the LGBTQIA+ community, and toxic masculinity are in our present world.


It's near impossible to talk about any specific plot points, because spoilers, but I will say that the pacing and way that the author chose to tell this story really spoke to me. The first 3/5 of the book is really this building suspense where the reader is dying to answer some of the questions upon questions as to what is really going on in this small Texas town, and the remaining 2/5 of the book is straight up balls to the wall action. When I got "there" (trust me, you'll know it when you hit that section), I had to finish the book in one sitting, because I couldn't breathe until everything wrapped up. SHMERMALARMA I am dying to talk about this book more, but I think I should leave it at this-if you enjoy well written, character driven crime fiction with a hefty dose of well-researched horror, you simply cannot miss The Bright Lands. This book was a pleasure to read, and it only seems fitting to post my review during Pride month, so maybe my self-sabotage was for good reason.

*Many thanks to the publisher for providing my review copy.
Profile Image for Gabby.
1,236 reviews26.7k followers
July 23, 2020
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 book, it felt like a thriller novel because you spend a lot of time trying to figure out what happened to Dylan and there's a lot of mystery there. You are following many POV's which could get overwhelming but I kept a list of characters in my notebook to keep track of who was who. One of the main characters is a female sheriff and you follow along with her as she tries to find out exactly what happened to Dylan. I also love the atmosphere in this book it has these creepy small town claustrophobic vibes and all the main characters are football players and cheerleaders and it's very high school but not in the juvenile way that I usuallu can't stand. Each POV was so compelling and interesting.

I was surprised by the amount of social commentary in this book about many important things like toxic masculinity in sports, especially sports like football, and the corruption of the local police and how they are cruel and unfair to gay people or Black people. I love when a horror book can feel extra scary because of how real it feels, and how much it mirrors our own society and this book definitely does that. Each one of these characters felt real to me, and the horror they experience really jumps off the page.

The ending of this book is where it started to lose me a bit as I was reading it. It feels like a completely different book to be honest, and I was having a hard time getting on board with it and I was mostly confused. However, after I finished this book I looked up a bunch of interviews with the author and theories other people have on the ending (and you know I love a book that provokes discussion) and I was AMAZED by what I found. It honestly just made me love the book even more to be able to discuss the ending with other people and figure out what they think it all means. I found a comment from the author about the ending that blew my mind, it said:

So after some more thought, I'm giving this book 5 stars. I haven't been able to stop thinking about this book since I finished reading it, and I love that. A lot of people are saying this is like Stephen King but gay, and I mostly agree with that. It definitely has that Stephen King horror kind of vibe going. But I wish there were more books like this, an ownvoices gay horror book! I can't wait to see what John Fram writes in the future, he is a super talented writer and I am obsessed with this debut novel.
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,484 reviews29.4k followers
July 30, 2020
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 Dylan, the charismatic quarterback of the high school football team, bring him back home. And when Dylan goes missing shortly after Joel’s return, the town—which worships its team and many of the players—is on edge.

But this is a town full of secrets, and for Joel, many of those secrets circle back to incidents and people from his past. Meanwhile, police detective Starsha Clark is determined to get to the bottom of Dylan’s disappearance, despite the similarities to her own football-playing brother’s disappearance years earlier, and despite some resistance from her colleagues.

As the town circles its wagons to protect its own, Joel, Clark, and others continue their dogged search for the truth. But in doing so, they’ll be forced to confront horrors both imaginary and real, which demonstrate the depths some will go to keep their secrets.

This book...it blew me away in many respects. Shifting perspectives from past to present and multiple narrations add to the haunting feeling that hung over me while reading. There are definitely disturbing things that happen in this book, and the bullying took me back to my own teenage years, in which I experienced far more than I ever divulged.

At times, however, I felt like the book wasn’t 100 percent sure what it wanted to be. There are definitely pieces of the plot I could’ve done without, and things that left me with questions, but on the whole, this was a book that moved and troubled me, and left me thinking. It's honestly unforgettable.

A pretty terrific debut for John Fram! Can't wait to see what his career holds.

Check out my list of the best books I read in 2019 at https://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com/2020/01/the-best-books-i-read-in-2019.html.

Check out my list of the best books of the decade at https://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com/2020/01/my-favorite-books-of-decade.html.

See all of my reviews at itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com.

Follow me on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/the.bookishworld.of.yrralh/.
August 27, 2021
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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 the supernatural elements felt out of place.
The novel doesn't really have a protagonist. We jump from character to character, without gaining any insight into who they are, most of whom are indistinguishable from each other. We are first introduced to Joel Whitley, who is in late twenties and lives a nice apartment in New York. He gets a series of texts from his younger brother, Dylan, who happens to be the star of his football team, if not their small town's golden boy. Worried for him, Joel returns to his hometown of Bentley. Joel is understandably not keen to return to his homophobic community, especially after what happened before he left.
When Dylan disappears Joel reconnects with his ex-girlfriend, Sheriff’s Deputy Starsha Clark who still hasn't forgiven him for 'misleading' her. Dylan's teammates and his girlfriend are clearly hiding something, and there are rumours about a place called 'the bright lands'.
Many of the town's inhabitants begin to have nightmares hinting at some sort of Big Evil.
Joel never felt like an actual person. We know he's gay and that his brother is missing. Other than that? Not much. His life in New York for example is only vaguely alluded to (only in those instances in which Joel notes that he now has plenty money) and his relationship with his mother is non-existent (for the matter she only has a cameo here and there...weird given that it is her son who is missing). He mostly reacts to things for plot reasons, but he really has 0 interiority.
The football team and cheerleaders are one-dimensional. They speak in clichés and their motivations are lazily unconvincing.
The adult men in this town are a similar shade of rugged bigot, the women and the girls instead are 'badasses'.
What I'm getting at is that the characters were utterly ridiculous. Which would have been fine if it wasn't for the fact that I was supposed to take them seriously.
John Fram tries to incorporate in his story topical themes such homophobia (which reigns supreme in Bentley), racism, police incompetence and corruption...but the way he addresses these is questionable. Suggesting that all homophobes are actually closeted gay or bi-curious men...is yeah, not great (as if straight men aren't homophobes?). The novel's portrayal and treatment of queer men leaves a lot to be desired. Also, why are there no queer women or non-binary folks in this town?

There is a lot of not telling, not enough showing. Chapters end in predictable cliffhangers, usually with a character learning or seeing something important, and it takes sometimes a few chapters before we return to that character and we get to read what all the fuss was about.
The latter half of the novel is utterly ludicrous. I can sort of see what Fram wanted to do...but I can't say that he manages to pull it off. For one, I just didn't buy into it. Second, the whole supernatural subplot was laughable...and this novel was meant to be a 'horror'? Mmh..
The Bright Lands lacks emotional weight. The characters seem really unfeeling, or perhaps they just don't register that they are feelings things such as anger or grief. They merely go from place to place.
This was a bland novel....and I'm not sure I will approach Fram's future work.

Read more reviews on my blog / / / View all my reviews on Goodreads
Profile Image for Dennis.
774 reviews1,480 followers
June 20, 2020
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 shame and mask it with money, beauty, and a whole new life that is completely different from the one he had as a child. One night, his younger high school aged brother, Dylan text messages him in trouble. Joel is quick to see that there's some type of dilemma that his brother is struggling with and decides to take a flight back home to check in on him.

When Joel arrives to Bentley, he realizes that the town has hardly changed in their social acceptance towards anyone that is deemed "other". Dylan, however, is the star quarterback for the Bisons (the town's team and mascot). Dylan is attractive and popular and basically the town's celebrity—why would Dylan need help from his older brother? Soon after Joel gets his footing in Bentley, his brother vanishes without a trace. The town is in turmoil after their golden boy disappears and Joel feels responsible. As Joel begins to search for his brother, he reconnects with a person from his past that opens up old wounds. The duo notice that the there's an underlying secret masking this town and whatever it is, has something to do with Dylan's disappearance.

I feel like I gave you too much information, but then I realized from the synopsis that I did not. This book is thiccccc at almost 500 pages, but I read the book in two days because I was completely addicted. The writing is very easy to get lost into and it's definitely a fast-paced book. I was buddying reading this book with my book pal Chelsea, and was only supposed to read a few chapters to see how it was. WRONG MOVE—I continued to read hours later. #Oops. That being said, The Bright Lands is reminiscent of Stephen King as in that there's a supernatural element in the book, but hardly too much where it takes you to the realm of unbelievability.

I fell in love with so many characters in this book. So many of them were relatable to me—even as a kid growing up on Long Island. Without spoiling anything, there's quite a few characters that hit close to home for me. As you read, you'll think you know what's going to develop, but I'm telling you now that you will have no idea.

When I began reading this book:
-I questioned where all the gay was.
-I believed that the mystery would be easy to find out.
-I didn't understand why a book would be this long for a mystery.

I WAS WRONG ON ALL ACCOUNTS. This book has plenty of gay; the mystery is very, very difficult to just come up on your own, so good luck trying to figure it out; and the length of the book was important because it showed the mystery behind the people and town of Bentley appropriately. In fact, I want more! Long story short, The Bright Lands is definitely a contender for my top 10 books for 2020 and I can't wait to see what you all think of it. John Fram, congratulations on your first novel.
Profile Image for Tucker  (TuckerTheReader).
908 reviews1,597 followers
June 30, 2020

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 ratings.

So, what's this book about?
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 back to a place he thought he’d escaped for good. Meanwhile, Sheriff’s Deputy Starsha Clark stayed in Bentley; Joel’s return brings back painful memories—not to mention questions—about her own missing brother. And in the high school hallways, Dylan’s friends begin to suspect that their classmates know far more than they’re telling the police. Together, these unlikely allies will stir up secrets their town has long tried to ignore, drawing the attention of dangerous men who will stop at nothing to see that their crimes stay buried.

But no one is quite prepared to face the darkness that’s begun to haunt their nightmares, whispering about a place long thought to be nothing but an urban legend: an empty night, a flicker of light on the horizon—The Bright Lands

This book wasn't bad. It was creepy, gay, and well-written. For a few reasons, it didn't work for me. I cannot stress enough that I am not saying this book is bad. I just didn't enjoy it. Does that make sense?

The first problem wasn't the author's fault. I requested the audio file from HarperAudio. Some publishers will send a file you can download and listen to via a media plyer app. This was the case with Bright Lands. Unfortunately, Apple is super annoying and it took me hours to figure out how to properly play the files. Even after figuring it out, I was so worried that the files were out of order so I kept worrying all the way until I finished the book.

I also felt a detachment from all the characters. I never got a look inside their heads. This story was told mostly without internal thoughts of the characters (aka 3rd person objective) which made the book feel more like a long list of events that happened. Kind of lacking in emotion.

Because of my previously mentioned worrying, I was having a hard time paying attention to the plot. It was mostly enjoyable but towards the end, I started to get a little lost in the weeds. I was able to sort out most of it but there were a few things I had to get clarified after finishing.

There were a LOT of characters and I think that most of them were necessary to the plot but I just... struggled to keep track of all the roles.

All that said, there were quite a few great things that I did enjoy.

This book was so creepy. It gave me Stephen King vibes. The magical realism and horror elements were mixed into the plot in an amazing way that was subtle and unsettling.

I loved the small-town mystery, too. It had a slow build-up but it was excellently written and had a really cool ending.

I loved the gay themes. I won't go into specifics because I feel like I'd be spoiling but the quote I have in the beginning kind of hints at what happens and I loved it, in spite of the fact that it was kind of weird.

I also liked the narrator. He did a great job with voice acting the many (many!) characters and working with tone to make the characters sound different from each other which I really appreciated.

Overall, this book is a great book but due to things no one could control, I didn't really enjoy it. If you're a fan of Stephen King or anything gay (or both), I highly recommend this book!

Bottom Line:
No Rating
Age Rating - [ R ]
Content Screening (Mild Spoilers)
Positive Messages (1/5) - [Leaving toxic communities if needed]
Violence (4/5) - [Gore, Murder, Rape, Fights, Guns, Knives, Stabbing]
Sex (4/5) - [Rape, Sexual Assult, Sexual themes]
Language (3/5) - [F**k, Sh*t, D*ck, F*gg*t]
Drinking/Drugs (3/5) - [Drug misuse, Alcohol consumption]
Content and Trigger Warnings - Explicit sexual themes, Sexual abuse, Nudity, Violence, Homophobia, Death, Loss of a loved one, Horror
Publication Date: July 4th, 2020
Publisher: Hanover Square Press (an imprint of HarperCollins)
Genre: LGBT/Horror


I waffled back and forth over this rating all night... but I feel like it's fair. The quality of this book was 5 stars but my enjoyment of this book was honestly 2(ish) maybe 3 stars.... soooo

3 stars

review to come



welp, i am officially a stalker because i've watched about 5 of this author's live streams and i also just found out this is 11/10 on the gay level and if i don't get this book now, i will literally implode


well, the author described himself as "Stephen Queen" so you know...

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Profile Image for Elle.
587 reviews1,317 followers
July 23, 2020
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 of town a decade prior. What’s surprising is not how much has changed since then, but how much seems to have remained frozen in time. And when Dylan goes missing shortly after his arrival, Joel will have to confront his own ghosts before trying to understand his brother’s.

This book is a lot, but in the best way. There’s obviously the mystery around Dylan’s disappearance, but that’s only a part of a larger one looming over the entire town. The Bright Lands is a nearly 500 page monster of a book that I absolutely tore through (sorry Nat, couldn’t wait xoxo), and the stakes only increase with every passing chapter. There’s horror and supernatural elements, along with some raunchier stuff that probably won’t make it to cable television. That’s fine, though, I prefer Netflix anyways. 💅🏼

The roving perspectives took me a beat to get a handle on, but it ended up being one of my favorite aspects of the story. Through each (I counted 5?) differing character POVs, the reader is given the opportunity to view the same scenes with new eyes. What’s it like to observe the in-crowd as opposed to being a part of it? How does it feel to be inside a corrupted police force vs being the target of one? I think John Fram balanced a lot of social issues (especially ones that have come up more in recent months) impressively well considering this book was written months to years prior.

Anyways this book is not going to be for everyone. There’s gore and spooky shit and it’s hella gay. If that’s not your bag that’s fine, but honestly I think it’ll be your loss. The last quarter or so goes off the rails in exactly the fashion I love, so while there’s a lot of character-driven writing, there’s absolutely no skimping on the action. I don’t know what John Fram is working on next but I’m pretty nosy so I’ll try my best to find out. 🕵️‍♀️

*Thanks to Jamie for my giveaway copy!
Profile Image for Zoeytron.
1,036 reviews671 followers
August 22, 2020
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 have mentioned the plethora of characters, and I add my voice to theirs.  The horror aspect was just okay to me, it almost seemed unnecessary.  The real horror is the narrow-mindedness of so many of the Bentley residents, a sobering social commentary which we all know is not confined to any particular area.  The acknowledgements were meaningful and touching.
Profile Image for Frank Phillips.
504 reviews250 followers
August 7, 2020
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 how much I always wanted to out of of that place as quickly as possible after graduation! It also reminded me of how much small communities gravitate around those Friday night lights and the local sports standouts. Much like in this story, the town I grew up in shut down the night of an important game, and transformed into a ghost town on the weekend of the playoffs. The support successful sporting teams receive from small communities very much impact and mold those young men and women participating in one way or another. I loved that there were those old-timers that always came back for games (some never left) and couldn't quite seem to move on past their former glory days, and found myself smiling as I remembered my group of fellow bench-warming friends. Needless to say, the atmosphere in this book was STELLAR.
I had some issues with the multitude of characters, and found it difficult to keep everyone straight (no pun intended!). Despite the variety of characters, I felt that they were all very fleshed out, and could imagine them vividly. My only other issue with this one was that I felt that the supernatural being, which was extremely scary, could have had more of a presence, and felt myself wanting a few more creepy, spine-tingling scenes. I would recommend this book to a variety of genre fans. In fact, I think this is one of those amazing genre-defying books a lot of people will enjoy. I can't believe this is a debut, and have extremely high hopes for this author and am on the edge of my seat waiting for his follow up novel!!!
Profile Image for Kelli.
850 reviews395 followers
January 14, 2021
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
Profile Image for Michelle.
605 reviews458 followers
September 29, 2020
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 book doesn't even cover one tenth of what it means to grow up gay in a world that doesn't accept you for who you are, but it provides an opportunity for someone who might be feeling lost, alone or helpless that they are seen. (I thought the author's note was very touching on this very point.) Outside of all that - it was just a fun book to read. I loved these characters!! I've seen some reviews where people had a hard time feeling connected, but I didn't experience that at all. I saw every single one of them like they were standing in front of me.

So what's it about? Joel Whitley left Bentley, TX as soon as he could and now resides in NYC. He gets a text from his younger brother (football hero and starting QB), Dylan, that surprises him. His brother is unhappy and wants out of the life he is on the path to lead. Joel wants to be there for his brother so he hops on a flight to TX just in time to witness his brother win an important game. They interact for a few minutes and then he's gone. That's the last time Joel will ever see his brother alive.

While reading this, I often described it to others as a mix between Friday Night Lights and Stranger Things. There definitely is a horror element, but I was disappointed there wasn't more. I think sometimes what makes a particular 'mystery entity' more frightening is the absence of a description or concrete evidence that it exists?? Bird Box is what comes to mind here. I thought this book delivered on that brilliantly, until I was just kind of left hanging. Soooo you're not going to give me a little something after almost 500 pages??? Um okay. So that was kind of a wah wah for me. Maybe other readers would be fine with how it was handled, but I was left wanting more.

Then there is the last third of this book.

All in all, there is absolutely no way I'm going to be able to tell you if you'll like this book. You're just going to have to read it for yourself. I know that despite a feeling disappointed in some ways, I will absolutely consider this a book I'm glad to have read and I will anxiously await John Fram's next book.

Review Date: 09/29/2020
Publication Date: 07/20/2020
Profile Image for Paul.
Author 112 books8,434 followers
July 6, 2020
Such a propulsive read. I burned through the last 250 pages in one sitting.
Profile Image for Shaun Hutchinson.
Author 25 books4,640 followers
September 1, 2020
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

Overall, I'm not sure I'd go back and read this book, but I know that a lot of readers will love it, and I will definitely be interested to see what John Fram does next.
Profile Image for Janelle Janson.
709 reviews441 followers
August 7, 2020
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 components such as horror, noir, suspense, and thriller, while also incorporating social commentary, strong and intriguing characters, and many of the all too important *gasp* worthy moments. Can you tell how much I love this book?! My advice is to go in blind, but I’ll leave you with a brief description.

In the small rural Texas town of Bentley, the star quarterback on the high school football team, Dylan Whitely, goes missing. Shortly before, Dylan’s older brother, Joel, receives several alarming texts from his brother, so he reluctantly decides to return home to help him. Joel left town ten years ago after a traumatic experience of being outed in high school. He lives a satisfying life in New York City with a successful career, but he cannot ignore his brother’s distress call for help. Football is no joke in Texas, so when the star quarterback goes missing, it shakes the town up.

As you can imagine, homophobia, racism, and misogyny run rampant, so I love how John writes his characters. The female Sheriff’s Deputy, Starsha Clark, is working the case and handles herself like a pro in a town full of toxic masculinity. I have a soft spot for Joel, but I loved every primary character in this book. Mind you, it’s not because they are magically perfect; it’s because they are sympathetic characters filled with complexity and depth.

John is not only a talented writer, but he wrote an emotional story with unique twists and original characters. I’ve never read a story with queer characters written in this way - he executed it perfectly. It’s a novel that keeps on giving - I think about this book constantly, and it keeps getting better with every thought.
Profile Image for Fiona.
1,221 reviews225 followers
October 13, 2020
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 pleasant surprise, I definitely got around to this one based on reviews rather than blurb.

I've seen a couple of reviews comparing this to early Stephen King, which is absolutely a good call, primarily in the first half. That rhythm of language is similar, as well as the building unease that there's not just a mundane thing gone wrong, but instead a cloud made up of the fears of some and dark wishes of others, slowing blocking the sunlight in the small town location. That town is familiar too, so insular it's stifling, and somewhere you can easily imagine tempers spilling and secrets lasting for generations.

But it's definitely it's own book this one, comparisons aside, and it's the second half where that really starts to shine through. It's horror, thriller, and suspense rolled into one; and for once, the sense of dread and terror that it builds up carefully in that first half gets a full payout in the second half. Plus, the writing is gorgeous, and despite the horrors I was absolutely glued to the page. I've been on a really good run for books recently, but this still had me actively excited to get back to it. It's a truly astonishing debut, and I'll be waiting impatiently for whatever John Fram dreams up next.
Profile Image for Isabel McDonald.
356 reviews255 followers
May 3, 2020
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 how deep this story was and it was surprisingly very emotional at times. This was my first LGBTQ thriller/horror and I was fully obsessed with it 🙌🏼🖤⁣

Another thing I really loved about this book was how creepy it was 😱 There were so many scenes that truly creeped me out, which I thoroughly enjoyed! This book was the perfect blend of nail-biting suspense and horror, which made it such an incredible read 🤓 I also loved the ending because it was actual INSANITY and it was everything I hoped it would be. ⁣

The only *minor* issue I really had with this book was that I couldn’t fully connect to some parts of the story due to the football aspect, but that didn’t affect my overall rating or enjoyment of the book much! I HIGHLY recommend this book to you guys and you need to preorder this book ASAP if you haven’t already 🙌🏼⁣

TRIGGERS: Homophobic Slurs, Sexual Assault, Suicide⁣
Profile Image for Rachel (TheShadesofOrange).
2,090 reviews2,953 followers
August 25, 2020
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. 
August 19, 2020
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 fact that there is a football stadium on the front of this novel is incredibly misleading; there is almost no football in this book other than that one of the main characters is a high school football hero.

This book grabbed every cliche and stereotype of this state and amped it up to 10. If you read this novel, please don't think all of Texas is like Bentley because I've lived in 4 states and I can find you a town like this just about anywhere (Vermont, I'm looking at you).

I considered DNFing this multiple times, but I wanted to be able to give this my honest review. I found the characters to be flat and one dimensional; I didn't know any of them well nor did I feel anything for them. We were told, not shown (cardinal sin) there are too many characters to keep straight.

I never give any plot spoilers, (there are plenty of reviews out there revealing those if you want to know more) - but the supernatural element that was tossed into this book really clinched it for me. I don't feel that it fit, it didn't make sense and that is where I fully lost interest. I felt the plot lacked focus and ran all over the place.
Profile Image for Jordan (Jordy’s Book Club).
374 reviews18.1k followers
July 9, 2020
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-wall" ending made this a 3-star for me.
Profile Image for Vonda.
318 reviews109 followers
February 26, 2020
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.
Profile Image for Jane.
929 reviews56 followers
June 30, 2020
4 stars

You can read all of my reviews at https://www.NerdGirlLovesBooks.com.

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 Texas, Joel Whitley had a difficult life in Bentley. He fled town for New York City ten years ago after a big scandal and never looked back. He's now a successful business man that is able to be himself in his new city. But, a troubling text from his younger brother Dylan, who is the star quarterback player on the high school football team, suddenly takes him back to the town he vowed he'd never step foot in again.

Sheriff’s Deputy Starsha Clark, who used to date Joel in high school, never left town and has been able to make a life for herself, although she is still haunted by the mysterious disappearance of her older brother ten years ago. She's not happy about Joel's appearance in town, but when Dylan goes missing after the Friday night football game, they find themselves thrust together to investigate the missing boy.

Dylan's friends and teammates are definitely hiding something, and Joel and Starsha must keep digging to get to the truth. Complicating matters are the disturbing nightmares they, and other town members, start having the night Dylan went missing. Things definitely aren't as they seem, and supernatural forces may be in play. Joel and Starsha may find out what's going on - but do they really want to know the answers?

I can't go into much detail beyond this without spoiling it for you. This book caught my attention and didn't let go until the end. I stayed up until 4am to finish it because I just had to know how it ended. It is very well written and while the story unfolds slowly in the beginning, the pace quickens as it gets weirder and creepier. The author plants little tidbits throughout the book, which peaked my interested until I was dying to find out what the heck was going on. While I guessed some of the mystery, I had no idea other things were going to happen - and that's what you want in a mystery/thriller. Some of the story is very salacious and pretty far-fetched, but hey, if you're going to write something that is really "out there", you might as well go for it.

Frank depictions of topics including child abuse, drug addiction, misogyny, and antigay are scattered throughout the book. It definitely isn't for the faint of heart and if you're put off by graphic sexual content, violence, cursing and hate speech (derogatory words used against homosexual characters), you should pass on reading this book.

This book is original and was quite a surprise. I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend you read it.

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Sadie Hartmann.
Author 24 books4,129 followers
June 1, 2020
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 of football.

Fram captured the essence of this kind of atmosphere perfectly in his book, THE BRIGHT LANDS.
The main character, Joel Whitley is a former high school quarterback who left his old stomping grounds to pursue a career a little less 'sports-oriented'.
He becomes increasingly concerned about his younger brother who is following in his footsteps back home, after receiving some cryptic text messages.

I struggled with this book in the very beginning. There was a lot going on in a short amount of time. A lot of characters come in and out which is confusing for readers trying to hold on to the important cast members in their minds. I found myself wondering about certain people only to realize they weren't coming back to the story.
There was something about the writing, especially the dialog, that felt like one of those stylized teen drama sitcoms on network television-think PRETTY LITTLE LIARS or something like it, where everything is a little too "on the nose". You know how when you watch those shows and you think to yourself, "Nobody really talks/acts like that in real life."
Yeah, that.
It took a good hundred pages before I settled into the pacing and started investing in main characters.
But once I did, the story became more compelling and interesting. Fram introduces some unexpected elements that lift this book beyond stereotypical, YA genre labeling and into a fresh, contemporary horror novel with thoughtful, social commentary on bullying and homophobia.
Profile Image for Chandra Claypool (WhereTheReaderGrows).
1,553 reviews319 followers
June 16, 2020
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 the end. There's quite a cast of characters and I enjoyed being in the minds of all of them. Well, maybe enjoyed isn't the right word for some of these minds because I found myself flinching at quite a few scenes. For the majority of the read, I was wondering why this was even considered horror at all - we get a hint in certain parts but it doesn't really show its horror face until a certain part. Personally, I would've liked to have seen more of this throughout the read rather than placed mainly just in one spot. HOWEVER, take that with a grain of salt because the horror in this novel isn't just contained within that part of the storyline.

With loads of mystery and an ending you won't be expecting, I'm duly impressed that this is a debut novel. Fram is an author to watch out for - I highly recommend adding this to your reading list. I'll certainly be looking for his next release.
Profile Image for Jessica Woodbury.
1,606 reviews2,050 followers
May 22, 2020
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 against each other, and no one really acknowledges the contradiction there, then this is definitely the book for you.

I admit to getting a little restless and wondering about the pacing of this book. E-reader problems. I had no idea this clocks in at nearly 500 pages and instead felt like I was just reading really slow, lol. Now that I know it is a big fat doorstop instead of a spry little thing, it all makes much more sense. I had to reevaluate a lot of my responses to this book once I realized it was different than what I thought it was. So here are my updated thoughts on what this book is and who it's for.

Like a lot of Big Fat Horror Books, this has a relatively long list of characters and moves between several of them in the narration. By the climax, almost every character is on page at once and it was only then that I started to feel more fuzzy on who was who. There were some side characters I clearly hadn't paid enough attention to that ended up being important, and it started to feel a little messy at that point. But before that, I was really impressed with how every time another character's point of view was added to the story, it felt natural and comfortable. I already had some idea of who that character was, and by adding that character's point of view it expanded my opinion of them as well as the story itself. It's here that Fram is at his best, slowly building the plot, and gradually acquainting us more deeply with this town and the people in it.

For me, the two big weaknesses were our protagonist, Joel, and that climax. For the latter, well, I can't think of hardly any big fat horror books that have a good climax. It is to be expected. This one just starts to get interesting but then becomes the kind of big, messy, what-is-happening climax you get from a lot of thrillers. You can't exactly tell who is where, and what is going on, just that a lot of things are happening at once. Mostly Fram does this above-average for a thriller, but it gets a little more stuck with the Big Bad. Also famously sloppy in horror books, wanting to both explain things but be mysterious, finding the balance between wrapping things up and leaving them open is notoriously difficult. Here, I think Fram would have done well to give us just a LITTLE more. Every detail opened things up rather than closing it off, made things more interesting rather than less. But with so much going on, the book seemed to give in to the big thriller ending more than anything else. I felt like we were just starting to get somewhere and then it was all over. This is particularly frustrating because I thought the themes Fram was getting into were so interesting. I wanted more of it, I wanted to dive into the weirdness and the contradictions of the masculinity on display.

As for Joel, with so many interesting characters around him, he is mostly empty. A blank slate. He is the guy who was outed to the whole town. He was the guy who left for the big city. But outside of those traits, there is not much to him and I wanted more.

I noted, with a wry chuckle, a review that basically said this book had too much sex, which made me chuckle. This book has very little actual sex, and what it has is just enough to let you know sex is about to be had. Sex is an unavoidable part of the plot in a book with gay characters where the fact that they are gay is central to the plot. Always expect those kinds of reviews in a book with any queerness in it at all, heaven forbid we actually exist in the world. Horror as a genre is heavy with white men, but they are mostly straight white men and the genre has been in serious need of queerness and we haven't made nearly as much progress there as we have with getting women and authors of color added into the mix, so I'm pleased to see this one on the scene.
Profile Image for Carol.
2,422 reviews76 followers
August 9, 2020
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 nightmare thought they’d ever have. Strange dreams and a sense of impending dread take over the people. When Joel begins to investigate his brother’s death he soon discovers that the town itself may be responsible. Dark secrets that never should have seen the light of day are soon revealed and Joel finds his life in jeopardy…but the question is…from what? It’s a tale with twisted narratives and a brutal look at the human condition. Loved it from the first page to the last. If you like dark mysteries with a hint of the supernatural thrown in…you will love this book also.
442 reviews20 followers
October 21, 2020
This was a tough one to get through.
I rarely write negative reviews because I am usually in awe of any writer who can compile and complete a book and get it published. And I was keen to read this one because there are some very good reviews about this novel out there and I am always keen to read new authors with fresh ideas.

I could, and perhaps should have, given up halfway through but I find abandoning the challenge unfair to the finished work. I was really hoping this novel would get better and make the read worthwhile but regrettably my opinion didn't change and to be an honest reviewer, I had to appraise it in such negative terms.
Obviously I missed what others enjoyed but I found this crime novel so dull and absurd that I couldn't wait to get to the end. The writing wasn't bad but hardly inspiring or illuminating and not helped by being chopped up in two or three page character chapter headings.

The plot? The author deserves praise for an original and unusual storyline but overall it was just so bizarre and unbelievable and with a conclusion that came off as more ridiculous than interesting. Female characters were certainly better etched than the male ones but really none of the participants were very memorable in a sea of confusing situations.
Sincerely hope others get more out of this than I did!
Profile Image for Laura Peden.
674 reviews118 followers
July 8, 2020
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 everyone...it’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.
Profile Image for Christian.
289 reviews327 followers
July 13, 2022
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 slow-moving initially as well, which I don't mind, especially since this is quite the long book, but the combination had me feeling a little unmotivated.

This did not change immediately. Admittedly, I struggled with around the first third of the novel. But I kept reading because I absolutely loved the setting, a small, traditional Texan town, and all of the social commentary going on, but I will get into that more later. So I pushed through, and oh, am I glad I did, so let me try to convince you why you should still give this book a try if you like thrillers and want something gay.

In retrospective, I think the pacing of this book is brilliant. Yes, it is off to a slow start, but it is incredibly atmospheric from the get go, and it is a book that will creep up on you without you really noticing (until it's too late). So from a fellow reader who felt discouraged by it - don't be discouraged. Also, don't be discouraged by the giant cast of characters. A lot of the multiple perspectives seem random and unnecessary at first, but in the end they all have a purpose and a significance for the story, and watching that come together was absolutely wonderful. Overall, it is definitely a book that forces the reader to engage, to speculate, and to memorize names in particular. You get the clues to a problem, and it is up to you to keep track of and put them together. Don't expect something where you can just lean back and be thrilled.

By far my favourite aspects of the whole book were the social commentary and the huge amount of gayness, which essentially go hand in hand here, and how the author wrapped them up in a harrowing, unnerving horror read. For instance, one of the main characters we follow is a female police officer, which at first got a side-eye out of me because hello, but I think the author handled it very smartly, because through her character he analysed the flawed system of not only police in general, but in particular how easily corrupted it is in such a small town, where old values rule and you can truly get away with anything as a White, straight men. On the other hand, it also showed what it is like to be on the other end, and how easy it is for them to make Black people fit the crime and take them into custody with hardly any evidence. So ultimately, this element really worked out for me, but I also want to say that the first half of the book includes a lot of police work, which is not something I typically read and felt sort of indifferent about.

But, oh, the gay, the gay. This book was so gay. So much gayer than I first thought. The other main character, Joel, is a gay man who comes back to this small town to help his brother, after he was basically bullied out of it a decade ago. So it explores the damage done to him as a teen, caused by living in a place where literally everyone either explicitly or implicitly tells you you're sick and wrong and should do your best to suppress who you are, and worse. So that made for a unique and emotional perspective on growing up gay in his case. As a whole, the story is essentially a dark, terrifying confrontation with how far we are willing to go to disguise our non-heteronormative tendencies, desires, and fantasies, about going to extremes to keep parts of ourselves secret, and a town that turns a blind eye to unspeakable violence and terror.

I was a huge fan of that, and as I kept reading and got to know all the characters more, I kept getting sucked deeper into the novel. I enjoyed it more and more as it progressed. While I do still firmly believe that it has flaws, especially as a reader who needs to connect with the characters above all, this was just a case where the plot was, at some point, so compelling that I couldn't put it down. There was also a subtle, yet important note of the supernatural added to the mix that never got the upper hand, but I thought the incorporation worked very well in its proportion. It kind of made me think of It, but make it real fucking gay.

And the last 100 pages... I was sweating. It was so intense and suspenseful and unpredictable and definitely one of my favourite reading experiences this year. And by the end, I realised that I had grown more fond of the characters than I had anticipated, because the ultimate impact of the conclusion actually made me quite emotional. I think a good amount of questions were left unanswered, while the most pressing mysteries were solved, striking the perfect balance for the book.

All in all, I believe that The Bright Lands is a novel that deserves more attention. While it takes a minute to get rolling, once it captivates you with its criticism of toxic masculinity, (internalised) homophobia and just overall a whole load of trauma in this boiling pot of a setting, you will not want to stop reading. Not even at 2 in the morning.

* * *

So why exactly is no one on my timeline talking about this ownvoices gay adult thriller that dismantles toxic masculinity and homophobia in a small Texan town?
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