Romancing the Dark in the City of Light by Ann Jacobus
Published by Thomas Dunne Books on October 6, 2015
Genres: [Young Adult] Contemporary
Format: Hardcover, ARC
4 Stars, Completed October 4, 2015
– SPOILER free –
Surprisingly, this was an appropriate book to start off the month of October. Unlike what the cover suggests, this book isn’t quite a light, contemporary romance. With the heavy rain and serious flooding on the east coast of the United States right now, which is where I live (I actually still cannot believe we’re experiencing a hurricane), and starting this book late one night, I got serious chills while reading.
In Romancing the Dark in the City of Light, Summer Barnes moves to Paris and is repeating her high school senior year. She’s been kicked out and expelled from several schools for alcohol and substance abuse. Summer must graduate this semester to earn her inheritance from her wealthy grandfather’s will. However, she’s having trouble feeling anchored to this world, so academics and this opportunity isn’t a big priority of hers. Instead, Summer is preoccupied with the belief that finding a special someone to hold hands with in the City of Light will help her find meaning to life. She meets two polar opposite guys: Moony, a once handsome and healthy boy now disabled because of a serious car accident that cares for her, and Kurt, a hot, mysterious, older man that lurks the underbellies of grimy France that makes all the nerves in Summer’s body hypersensitive. Then Summer hits an all time low after coming to terms with how her father died and all signs seem to point her to just giving up.
Honestly, I tend to skip these type of books because growing up I had a dark period during my parents separation. I wouldn’t really call it depression but a time of insecurity and loneliness, which are emotions I feel like many people have experienced before. It was also a strange period of time for me that I don’t want to ever relive so I wasn’t exactly thrilled knowing this was a book about a suicidal character that shared my name. Thankfully, Summer and I are nothing alike now. Summer Barnes is a perpetual nail biter, sardonic narrator, and fearless heroine, but among many things she is very lost. Throughout the entire book, Summer battles with alcoholism, severe depression, and thoughts of suicide. Having had friends that have struggled with depression before and had fleeting thoughts of just letting it all go myself (this was a really long time ago), I found her often jumbled and frantic thoughts comprehensible and very realistic.
I also really appreciated that Jacobus looked past Paris’s grandeur and included the grimy bits as well. She doesn’t sugarcoat the usually enchanting, tourist magnet city. With Summer’s encounters with street bums and loitering prostitutes, this was realism-in terms of setting and cultural portrayal-at its best. Also, all the moments with Kurt was what really made this book so dark and haunting. I literally felt chills during the sewage and catacombs scenes.
It was also fascinating that Moony and Kurt are perfect character foils, each highlighted the other’s opposite characteristics. Both also reminded me of Freud’s idea of one’s willpower between ego (you; in this case Summer), id (the imaginary, impulsive devil), and superego (the imaginary, logical angel). And I feel like this is something many individuals that battle with thoughts of suicide struggle with, whether life is worth living (the angel on the right, Moony) or if it’s just easier to let it all go (the devil on the left, Kurt).
Also, I’m not going to elaborate on this to avoid spoilers, but let me just say personification of death in literature has always creeped me out terribly. And readers will surely notice there’s some of that in this.
I also want to add that though this wasn’t a predictable read for most readers, I was able to catch on with the gist of the remaining storyline after being halfway in, but I didn’t really mind because the plot still remained to be very gripping.
However, there was one thing that made me quite upset: some moments, Summer was incredibly dense and oblivious. If a stranger offers her a ride, drink, and to come over to his place… it’s an evident red flag! Even her instinct and intuition tells her Kurt’s boyfrenemy material but she’s so intoxicated by him as she is to her flask of vodka. But she really doesn’t need any more unhealthy addictions to add to her plate. Summer made a lot of poor decisions throughout the book, and I often found myself shaking my head in defeat for this hopeless character.
But actually hopeless she was not. There is some reprieve for readers by the end when all comes retrospectively full circle. Redemption is strong.
There is also a bunch of symbolism behind a lot of the scenes in each chapter. There’s actually a discussion guide in the back of the novel for book groups/clubs and students, and I found reviewing that section after reading the book really opened my eyes to certain moments I missed or interpreted differently before. Also, there are some helpful advice and suicide hotline numbers in the last couple of pages.
Anyway, Romancing the Dark in the City of Light was a compelling, haunting read that tackles serious issues that many people battle with and leaves a powerful message and food for thought for readers by the end. Poignant and totally compelling; I really, really recommend this book.
Special thanks to Thomas Dunne Books and St. Martin’s Griffin for giving me the opportunity to read and review Romancing the Dark in the City of Light. In no way did this affect my reading experience or honest review.