Brighter Than the Moon

Bloomsbury. Jan. 2023. 352p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781547607167.
Gr 7 Up–Jonas and Shani, both 17, meet online when Shani gets Jonas to draw something for her. Their relationship quickly progresses to epic texting sessions and video chats. Shani, who is mixed race (Black and white), exudes confidence (she is a vlogger and a nursing student), which makes the shy Jonas hesitant to ask her out. He’s also shy about how he just started living on his own, his unclear background, and other secrets—secrets that Shani begins to sense exist but can’t figure out. She enlists her bold best friend, Ash, a trans boy with Cuban and Indian parents, to try and uncover Jonas’s secrets through hiring him to do an art project. While undercover, Ash becomes smitten with Jonas, but he doesn’t tell Shani about his strong feelings. Some authors would stop with the standard “love triangle with a queer spin” trope, but Valdes turns his story into something entirely new and reflective of life today. The story begins in the midst of the first dilemma and then builds its characters and plot carefully, even quietly at times, but always with compassion and intensity. While some of the secondary characters are a bit thin, the book shines through the three main characters, each with distinct questions, conflicts, and desires, who tell the story in alternating segments. Jonas’s story in particular provides significant emotional depth, and the ending (without spoiling it) opens new possibilities for teen romances and coming-of-age stories.
VERDICT Give to anyone who has ever questioned their identity, their story, or just themselves. Highly recommended for any teen library collection.

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