Unflinching Humanity in ‘Picture Us In The Light’

Kelly Loy Gilbert, acclaimed author and speaker, has swiftly become one of my favorite authors. Her prose and characters jump off of the page and stick in your brain long after reading. Her 2019 young adult contemporary titled Picture Us In The Light has long withstood as a favorite on my shelf, but I recently revisited it for my summer reading. It’s no surprise that I still hold it in high regard.

This novel centers around Danny Cheng, a high school senior in the Bay area of California. His life seems to be on track, with an acceptance to his dream art school under his belt and a brilliant friend group who supports him. When a spiraling turn of events occurs, starting with his father losing his job, Danny is forced to reevaluate his past, present, and future. Without revealing too much by way of spoilers, Danny is forced to reconnect with his family and friends like never before, and learns how to love those around him without fear.

One of my favorite things about this book is the brilliant pacing. Gilbert builds a rising sense of suspense as the plot progresses. With each chapter and devastating reveal, the reader is connected to Danny’s psyche and understands the pain he feels. Readers are encouraged to pick up on subtext and hints dropped for the grand love story, even as Danny denies them himself. It’s a wonderful journey, and realizes the full power of Gilbert’s skill in writing teenagers and families.

Speaking of Gilbert’s writing, her prose is a real standout here. Raw and intimate monologues that delve into the meaning of family and loss, tense dialogue that presents teenage relationships in a tangible way, and a bang of a prologue that sets the stage for a beautiful story from beginning to end. It’s rare that I can find a book that displays teenagers in an accurate light, due to the fact that so many YA authors are in their 30s or older. Gilbert masters this, with familiarity and conversation cues that feel right at home with those I have with my friends every day.

No matter how many times I read this book, I notice new highlights and am left stunned each time. Finding a book that builds upon itself is uncommon, like a gift that keeps on giving! If you’re looking for a refreshing yet emotionally challenging read this summer, check out Picture Us In The Light wherever you buy your books now.


By Leah Ollie, incoming Freshman at Butler University

Instagram: @leahgraceollie

Written by Leah Ollie

Leah is a senior at Whitney Young High School, and has been working with True Star since fall of 2020. She loves fruit smoothies and cats, and dislikes kale and action movies.

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