The Night Burns Bright By Ross Barkan
Book/Novel Author: Ross Barkan
Book/Novel Title: The Night Burns Bright
In this coming-of-age thriller, a twelve-year-old boy’s spark of courage to question the harmonious wooded commune he calls home may burn down more than just his own illusions.Lucien has everything he needs: a loving mama, a library full of books, and House of Earth, a private school nestled safely in the woods of upstate New York. It’s where Lucien is taught the importance of living in harmony with nature and building a peaceful and sustainable future. But when his youthful curiosity draws him into town and to Gabrielle, a public-school student living a life wholly different from his own, Lucien’s inquisitiveness about life beyond the commune and questions regarding the events of 9/11 threaten to unbalance everything he thought he knew.Slowly, things begin to change at House of Earth. The outside world is off limits. Security measures tighten. New rules are put in place, and anyone who violates them is asked to leave and never spoken of again.As forbidden questions pile up, Lucien’s willingness to obey weakens. Continuing to meet Gabrielle in secret only reinforces his gnawing fear that something about his world is terribly wrong. Unable to remain silent any longer, Lucien will soon discover that looking for answers at House of Earth may be the most dangerous rule he can break.
At first, I was reminded of To Kill a Mockingbird-a story from a child’s point of view when the child doesn’t always understand the world around them. But this grew into a much different story. We catch on pretty quickly that Lucien is stuck in a cult, and while we think the deep evil is one thing (based on Evie-although that evil was eventually brought up in question at the end of the book), it turned out to be something else entirely. I had just about given up on First Reads books because they’re usually not that good, but this one was incredible.
I could not put this book down! Had actual moments of my heart racing. Definitely recommend. It’s intense but so interesting to see what it’s like on the inside of that mindset.
The story starts out a little slow but the more you read, the more interested you get. Then you can’t so reading to find out what happens. Lucien is the center of it all and so young. You want to protect him and all his friends from what you know is going on but they don’t yet. A wonderful ending of the slow process of healing and growing up, never forgetting your childhood yet learning so much from it. Absolutely a wonderful book.
I have not read any other books about being raised in a cult community so my review is solely about this book. Lucien is a bright, curious and obedient child living and growing and learning about the world through the lens of a cult obsessed with the environment, ecology and humans impact on the future of our planet. Some of the lessons learned are thought-provoking to us but are absolute truth to the children in the cult/community. Through the authors storytelling, I could feel the insidious nature of a cult mind. None of the characters in this book were perfect or 1 dimensional and I appreciate that element in any book I choose to read. What starts as a quirky and charming world for Lucien, grows dark, drop by drop, then builds in intensity. I could guess some of the bad things building but am glad that there were some surprises and twists to the path toward the end of the book. The ending was satisfying and realistic to me. No nonsensical happy ending just to end the story on a better note. The ending was not dark and sad, just a realistic portrayal of one potential experience for a child having been raised in a cult, dealing with the outcomes experienced in this tale.
I enjoyed the book immensely! The author is tight up there with Stephen King and Dean Koontz. It gets a little slow but then suddenly there’s things going on and the protagonist is movinfast. Good twist at the end.
This is a book I’m hesitant to say I enjoyed given how heavy and bleak most of it is, but it was well-done and I’m glad I read it. The Plot Lucien has grown up in House of Earth, an alternative school focusing entirely on environmentalism and saving the Earth. It’s is known around town as “that weird school up the hill” but that doesn’t bother Lucien much. His mama and House of Earth are his whole life and the only two things he loves in the world. As Lucien gets older, House of Earth begins to grow and change, becoming first a commune, then a self contained community and finally something close to a prison. Lucien can deal with all that; however when the adults start doing weird rituals on the grounds at night, their meals are reduced to miniscule portions, then his friends start disappearing and Lucien himself is punished for even daring to mention their names, it’s clear House of Earth stopped being just a “weird little school” a long time ago. The Good Lucien stole my heart. He was so painfully naive and innocent and my heart broke for him more times than I could count. Adults not protecting children is one of the things that gets to me most in books, and not one single adult in this little boy’s life ever did a thing to keep him safe and unharmed, many times actively hurting him, and still he tried so hard every day to be good enough for them. Ugh, it killed me. The writing, obviously, was very good as well or it wouldn’t have affected me so much. It struck me as a minimalist writing style, the kind that you almost don’t notice is good because it fades into the background, letting the actual story shine. I loved the way the dialogue in particular was written. It felt like I was reading real conversations, with a lot of the awkwardness and idiosyncrasies in tact, instead of feeling “edited.” The story was great, and at times really stressful, but I felt like I came away with a lot to think about, particularly regarding both environmentalism and also the ways people can exploit a sense of belonging in others for personal gain. The cult in this story gained traction because they were offering community and unconditional love to people who needed it, and isn’t that always how it starts? The Bad Despite really liking this book, there was something that didn’t quite connect to make it a five star read and I can’t place my finger on what it was. I do have some questions about the cult itself and some of the characters that were left unanswered and that’s a little frustrating so that could be it. I also don’t love how it ended. I’m a big fan of short and sweet and/or ambiguity when it comes to book endings and this was incredibly drawn out (something like 25 pages of wrapping up after the story truly ends!!) and basically summarizes Lucien’s entire life from the moment he leaves the cult until his mid thirties. I would’ve liked something much more brief, with some room left for imagination, and I really, really didn’t need the jump to 35-year-old Lucien and his sad love life. Content warnings: SO MUCH CHILD ABUSE, child neglect, parental abandonment, branding, grooming, starvation, gaslighting, implied sexual assault, murder, descriptions of corpses