Book Review: Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert (2018)

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While many novelists refer to their latest works as “the book of my heart,” in the case of young adult author Kelly Loy Gilbert’s finely crafted, humanistic new effort Picture Us In the Light, that description is entirely justified.

Sensitively penned within the immediately convincing first person point-of-view of our main character, high school senior and aspiring artist Danny Cheng, the author pulls us into Picture’s picturesque world within the very first chapter.

After stumbling upon a mysterious box of his father's and going through it with gusto, Danny begins to wonder just how much his loving but secretive parents have been keeping from him.

Unable to come of age until he can come to terms with unexplained gaps and tragedies in his past, he enlists the help of his two best friends - only to discover that he can’t examine the lives of those closest to him without doing the same himself.

Balancing wry observations and deft characterizations with heavy subject matter, Loy Gilbert foreshadows big twists to come as we move further into the novel. And although it begins with a steady climb, Picture slows down just long enough to ensure that we feel as connected to the characters as they are to each other.

Now sure she’s got you, the author returns to full speed - moving like a bullet train from roughly the hundred page mark all the way through to its bittersweet but very satisfying final chapter.

Written during the tumultuous 2016 election and revised afterward, Loy Gilbert is right on YouTube when she acknowledges the vital role that stories play in this post election world where “facts don't matter,” due to fiction’s empathetic ability to introduce us to people, places, and plights we might not encounter otherwise.

Filled with so much internal and external dramatic mystery that in less gifted hands, Picture could’ve easily resulted in a messy collision of conflicts, although there are a few revelations about both the plot and our protagonist that we’re able to deduce long before he does, the author wraps things up artfully.

Dropping hints and red herrings into sentences and passages so gorgeous that I found myself making multiple notes throughout, Kelly Loy Gilbert never once lets us feel as though she’s taking a shortcut on her way to the book’s resolution.

Relatively new to twenty-first century post-Harry Potter young adult fiction, if I had not received this stunning Picture through Bookish First, I would’ve completely missed what’s since become one of the best novels I’ve read so far this year.  To put it another way, it’s a book of the heart indeed.

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