Book Review: PICTURE US IN THE LIGHT by Kelly Loy Gilbert

Picture Us in the Light gives us a look into the life of Danny Cheng, a high school senior who’s idyllic life starts quickly unraveling as he finds out more and more about his parents’ past and tries to deal with his own personal issues.

Disclaimer: ***This book was given to us by the publisher for an honest review***

We begin the story with Danny’s acceptance and scholarship into the Rhode Island School of Design, a very prestigious art school for which he now has a full ride to. His relief of not having his parents pay his way in is alleviated with their joy in knowing that he’ll be able to pursue his dream. Add to that the admiration of his friends, especially his best friend Harry Wong, and we see one person whose life is perfect. Or at least it seems that way on the surface.

What’s interesting about these characters is that, although they’re all Asian, they are not generalized as being super smart and having it all together. And sure, they actually are smart, but that doesn’t mean they don’t feel like failures at times. Danny is made out to look like he’s got it all together, even sometimes to those closest to him, but when we get to see how his mind works, we see someone who has similar issues and struggles with self-doubt and selfishness as anyone else, including the person writing this review.

Throughout the book, there’s a mystery to be solved about Danny’s parents. Danny doesn’t ardently seek it, but it’s weighing on his mind, along with the self-doubt that he’s really not as good an artist as he thinks he is. In fact, being accepted into RISD almost exacerbates his fear that he’s a fake.

And when events from his past are revealed to the reader, we see the anxiety rise in Danny as the end of the school year looms over him and he sees himself away from all that he cherishes and all those he loves.

Kelly Loy Gilbert, the William C. Morris author nominee of Conviction (read my review of it here,) brings another amazing story book into the hands of young adults everywhere with Picture Us in the Light. Her storytelling is subtle, yet powerful, and the words stick with you long after you’ve finished the book.

Danny is a talented young man trying to find his way, tripping and fumbling along like any other young person, just hoping that he’ll be able to come out without losing everything and everyone he’s grown to care for and love. He’s knows he could be a better person, a better friend, a better son, but sometimes he can’t help but react like a teenager, and that’s what makes him so relatable.

Danny’s relationship with his parents is very present in this book, which is appreciated, although bittersweet in a way. I loved that Gilbert was able to include them into the story as much as she did as they are a very important part of a young person’s life. The author doesn’t shy away from tackling issues that can come from being of Asian descent, or having parents who have to constantly be wary of their actions.

Danny’s friendships are given equal attention as Danny navigates through the last few months of high school while trying to find a way to regain the same closeness he had with his longtime friend Regina and to figure out how to open up about his feelings for his best friend Harry without losing them both. It’s a tangled web, for sure, but it’s written so carefully and intimately and openly that when those peak moments in the book happen, it leaves you feeling, not exactly happy, but more appreciative, especially in knowing that you don’t have to be perfect to find fulfillment. You just have to be honest.

The one big draw for readers these days is finding characters of diversity, characters that readers of color are able to connect to on a personal level that we’re only just seeing in books in the past few years, and it’s refreshing. The characters were real, the dark moments were painful, and the conclusion was heartfelt. Tears were shed, unashamedly. It was precious.

Being an Asian-American myself, I was able to relate to this character on such a level, and it’s something that I didn’t truly realize I was missing until now. Most of my school life I was severely in the minority, mainly being surrounded by Caucasians, and basically growing used to that idea that this was just the way it is. But reading this book and a few others in the recent past has me seeing things in a less monochromatic light, and it’s beautiful, such as the cover of this book.

Picture Us in the Light arrives in stores on April 10, 2018.

Order your copy today at the following: Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Official overview:

Danny Cheng has always known his parents have secrets. But when he discovers a taped-up box in his father’s closet filled with old letters and a file on a powerful Silicon Valley family, he realizes there’s much more to his family’s past than he ever imagined.

Danny has been an artist for as long as he can remember and it seems his path is set, with a scholarship to RISD and his family’s blessing to pursue the career he’s always dreamed of. Still, contemplating a future without his best friend, Harry Wong, by his side makes Danny feel a panic he can barely put into words. Harry and Danny’s lives are deeply intertwined and as they approach the one-year anniversary of a tragedy that shook their friend group to its core, Danny can’t stop asking himself if Harry is truly in love with his girlfriend, Regina Chan.

When Danny digs deeper into his parents’ past, he uncovers a secret that disturbs the foundations of his family history and the carefully constructed fa ade his parents have maintained begins to crumble. With everything he loves in danger of being stripped away, Danny must face the ghosts of the past in order to build a future that belongs to him.

Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

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About Author

Southern California native who likes movies (Star Wars, Marvel, Love Simon), books (Shadowhunter Chronicles, NA, YA fantasy, Red Rising series), TV shows (Supernatural, The 100), food (sushi, seafood, steak, all kinds really), and San Diego Comic-Con. I also like to write, but don't get to do much of that aside from on here.

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