My colleague, Amber, is back with another YA review! Enjoy as she talks about Kelly Loy Gilbert’s Picture Us in the Light.
Picture Us in the Light, by Kelly Loy Gilbert,
(April 2018, Disney-Hyperion), $17.99, ISBN: 9781484726020
I picked up “Picture Us in the Light” as an ARC at PLA last March. The cover popped, and I grabbed. I’m so glad I did. To my delight, just as I finished reading it, the finished copy showed up from central purchasing, all laminated and ready for my teen shelves!
The plot: Danny Cheng is the son of immigrant Chinese parents. His best friends, Harry and Regina, are dating. It’s a tad awkward because Danny has a secret crush on Harry. His parents are thrilled because Danny got into a prestigious art school, but Danny hasn’t been able to draw in a year. He’s harboring major guilt over his role in a tragedy that affected his whole friend group. When Regina asks Danny to draw a portrait for the school paper related to the tragedy, Danny worries that his inability to do so will be seen as insult to those affected most. Then Danny finds a mysterious box of papers in his father’s things and his parents clam up when he asks about it.
It’s Danny’s senior year. He might not see his friends again because his college is across the country. Will he tell Harry he likes him? What about hurting Regina? Can he break his dry spell? What’s with that secret box of his dad’s? Why won’t his parents tell him anything?
Review: This book made me feel so many ways. Kelly Loy Gilbert gets right to the heart of the teen experience. Her bio says she “believes deeply in the power of stories to illuminate a shared humanity and give voice to a complex, broken people.” That is certainly what happens here. While Danny is the center of the story, his parents are the heart. If anything, Danny’s position emphasizes how important he is to them and makes their sacrifices for him hit harder as they are uncovered. Did they make the right decisions? Did their decisions hurt Danny? You decide. There are plenty of opportunities for debate in this book, which would make it a great choice for book club. Here is a boy who deeply needs his parents’ open love and support, but because of secrets they are forced to keep from him, their relationship with him, while loving and devoted, is not supportive in the way he needs. Danny reflects that closed nature, keeping his own secrets from his parents and his friends. No one has any idea he hasn’t drawn in a year or why.
The best thing about “Picture Us in the Light”, in addition to the wonderful characters and how they are all real and recognizable, is the unfolding story. Mystery upon mystery come to light (yes, I did that, omg I just realized that ‘in the light’ here probably refers to the characters’ dawning awareness—look, I never claimed to be sharp about this kind of thing). OK, sorry. Had a moment there. I’m not going to name the mysteries because part of the joy is discovering them. If you savor mysteries stemming from secrets so deep they can tear a family apart if they’re kept and might do the same if they’re discovered, you’re in for a treat.
Recommended for teens 12 and up. Good for readers who enjoy: Mystery. Coming of age. LGBT. Personal relationships. Teen friendship issues. Parent/child issues. Chinese-American and Chinese immigrant experiences. Family secrets.