I don’t know where to begin with “Picture Us in the Light”. The simple fact is that, at first, I thought the book was kind of slow and the odd section every now and again written in second person threw me through an uncomfortable loop, but then… well, then magic happened and I fell in love. This is such a great book with so many tender messages and depictions of what it’s like to be a modern day teenager who struggles to be perfect on paper for college admissions, constantly pushed to the brink by helicopter parents, and the deadly consequences of what being told “you aren’t good enough” can do to a young person. There were so many tender moments depicting parent/child relationships, and Danny’s love for Harry. The synopsis makes you think Danny is confused by his feelings for his friend Harry, but he never was. He knew, always knew, that he loved Harry, that he wanted to be with him, that the idea of being far away from Harry in college was devastating. And, interwoven with the slow burn mystery that gets unraveled through the course of the book, is an honest commentary on some current stances when it comes to race in America and immigrants. So, even with the slow start, this book had me as enamored as Danny was with Harry come the end.
The entire time I was reading this contemporary, I felt on the cusp of discovering something huge. Something to do with Danny’s parents and what happened to one of the students at his school. There are so many little secrets that accumulated flawlessly into these huge reveals that are interwoven in total believable ways, that even though you’re twisting and turning to figure out the truth of what Danny’s parents are hiding, I never felt lost or disbelieving of the reveals when they did come. Also, Gilbert’s writing felt so authentic to the high school experience, from the stress college applications bring to driven students, to the dialogue of all the characters. The scene was set perfectly and I felt like I was back in high school without feeling like the author was trying overly hard to make me believe something or feel like they were writing without knowing what they were talking about. And, as the mystery begins to play out, the sections in the 2nd person made more sense and bothered me less and less (sorry, just not a fan of that writing style).
Overall, I found the story to be very human. It showcases human mistakes and triumphs. Misunderstandings and revelations. Why secrets are kept, and how some are better left untouched. This book hurts to read in a good way as it does touch on suicide and how that affects the small community the characters live in, how grief manifests and how suicide is treated like some disease to hide your children from rather than talked about without disregarding when a teenager says they feel overwhelmed. Danny’s guilt over his parents, the friend and secrets he hides, and his constant yearning for Harry that he thinks no one sees but himself, is all told in a very human way. Sure, this is a slow burn book, but that’s what made the ending all the more rewarding. You’re devastated and frustrated at the end, sure, but in a way that feels real, because honestly if the book ended in any other way I think it’d be a letdown.
Still, this book is a slower YA contemporary, it was just missing a little something that would have made me fly through this, and it might have been how much time was spent on little red herrings here and there that, at the end, didn’t completely matter outside of showing you what life was like for Danny and his community. But, I love the diversity of this book—a cast of pretty much all Asian American characters and lovely LGBQT representation. I enjoyed how Gilbert showed the destructive side of what pushing kids to be overachievers can do, but that does make it a bit of a heavy read as it does deal with depression and suicide, so be forewarned. But that’s why I think this book is so important, too, and why I’m giving it 4.5 stars! This book may have originally been a total cover buy for me, but I still highly recommend it for way more than that now!
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