The Bright Forever by Lee Martin: Book Review

The Bright Forever by Lee Martin Book Cover

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Cover of The Bright Forever

4 Stars

On a beautiful July evening, nine-year-old Katie Mackey disappears on her way to the library. And our hearts break.

I just don’t know where to start. It’s hard not to compare this to Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, but there’s a huge difference. As I remember it, The Lovely Bones dealt with the family’s grieving process through the years following Susie’s death. The Bright Forever follows the immediate aftermath of Katie’s disappearance. All the rage, despair, hope, shame, suspicions, and “what if”s are examined in this book.

And then it goes a step farther. At the very end is something of a call to action. The last narrator (there are several) says,

     “And what about the ones that evening who saw us come and go…and never for an instant thought there might be something wrong?
     The problem is this: how many of us were there who could have done something to stop what was going to happen? Where does responsibility start and end?”

“We thought we were all free: free from work, from chores, from one another.”

     “‘He always looked like he was carrying the world on his back. I’d see him around town, and my heart would break.’
     ‘Did you ever tell him that?’ I asked her. ‘Tell him that you saw him, that you felt something about what it was to have his kind of life?’
     ‘I can’t recall ever saying a word.’
     ‘He might have liked to have heard it.'”

What could be prevented if we just noticed each other? Not even just crimes. Maybe the neglected little boy wouldn’t grow up to be the twisted man if someone had noticed his pain when he was younger. Just noticing. How hard is it, really? And yet we seldom do it.

I can’t say that the characters were developed all that well, but I believe this was on purpose. They became archetypes. If they had each had too much of their own personality, they would have only been a character in a book. As it is, it’s all too easy to see your neighbor, your co-worker, your child, or even yourself. And that ultimately makes the story pack a harder punch.

I have to say that there was one little thing that drove me crazy. I swear they talk about Katie’s gorgeous brown hair. My husband and I agree that the lock of hair on my cover is blond. I think the idea for the cover was great, but I wish they had gotten that detail right.

I’m tempted to say that parents of young children might want to steer clear of this novel. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare. But in a way, it teaches you to appreciate every moment you have with your family. So I’ll leave it up to each reader reading this review. You know what you can handle. This isn’t an easy book to read by any means, but it definitely left me thinking.

Here are the words to the hymn the title is taken from. There’s even a midi file you can play for the tune, if you want.

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