Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert
Disney-Hyperion, April 2018
Reviewed from ARC
Plot Summary: Acceptance letter and scholarship in tow, Danny Cheng is well on his way to RISD and a bright future as an artist. But as senior year approaches its end, the idea of leaving pulls Danny’s mind back to Cupertino, his friends, and his family. When Danny discovers a box of letters in his father’s closet, long-kept family secrets begin to unravel. The more Danny learns, the more his world begins to fall apart. Meanwhile, Danny’s own secret—his feelings for his best friend, Harry—begins to float to the surface. Can Danny bring himself tell Harry even though Harry’s madly in love with Regina?
Queer Content: Despite constant reminders of Danny’s unrequited feelings for Harry, I sometimes found myself forgetting that this was a queer book at all. Yes, it’s a coming out story. At least in part. But Danny’s sexuality feels so inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. The novel is also about immigration. And the pain of losing someone to suicide. And what it means to love your family against all odds. Like the reader’s, Danny’s attention is pulled in so many different directions that he really doesn’t have time to figure himself out while he’s figuring everything else out.
All the confusion manifests itself in the form of Danny’s creative block. He worries that “something’s empty at [his core]” (10) because he can’t bring himself to draw anymore. And he’s right. You can feel his longing on just about every page: longing for answers, longing for closure, longing for connection. In some ways, this book reminds me of Nina LaCour’s We Are Okay. The emotions are just so palpable. And there’s something about the structure that, despite divulging so much information in such careful and beautiful writing, keeps all the characters at a distance. This is one of those quiet books that may not draw you in right away but is so, so worth it in the end. Like, seriously worth it.
I realize I’m talking more about the book’s overall quality than our blog’s usual microscopic focus on queer representation. But Danny’s queerness is no more important than his Asian-American upbringing or his class. The book, like Danny, is intersectional. Still, there really isn’t too much to discuss about Danny’s sexuality because, if it weren’t for the fact that he was closeted, this would be one of those stories where the character “just so happens to be queer.” There isn’t anything wrong with that, but it’s not the kind of story that usually earns the Stonewall Book Award.
Final Word: Although this book received a whopping 5 starred reviews, I haven’t heard a lot of buzz around it. Mark my words: it’s going to be the sleeper hit of the season. Do I think it will win the Stonewall? No. But I think it has a clear shot at Printz. Either way, do yourself a favor and read it ASAP.
Have you read this book? Share your thoughts in the comments below!