Picture Us in the Light

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
Picture Us in the Light Book Poster Image
Compelling story of friendship, family, loss, and secrets.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Gilbert presents her cast of almost exclusively Asian American characters without any literary fanfare. The takeaway for readers is that kids -- no matter their ethnicity -- can share the same dreams and anxieties about their futures.

Positive Messages

True friendships can be difficult, confusing, and sometimes hurtful but are always worth the effort.

 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Danny confronts some huge personal upheavals as his family faces a devastating financial crisis, and the secrets his parents have kept alter their lives forever. While he does make some unwise choices, Danny proves himself to be loyal, compassionate, and forgiving.

Violence

A flashback recalls the shocking suicide (not described) of one of the circle of friends.

Sex
Language

Some strong language: "s--t," "crap," "bitch," "f--k,", "damn," and "a--hole."

Consumerism

Characters shop at Costco; passing references to Sharpie, Vans shoes, Netflix, and Game of Thrones.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One instance of a teen drinking. After the suicide of their friend, several characters decide to try to lessen their shock and grief by taking Xanax.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Kelly Loy Gilbert's Picture Us in the Light is the story of high school senior Danny Cheng, who lives with his Chinese immigrant parents in a San Francisco Bay Area town filled with "the overachieving kids of tech titans." While not from a wealthy family, Danny is an overachiever, having won early admission and a full scholarship to the Rhode Island School of Design. But this great news is overshadowed by Danny's dread of being separated from his best friend, Harry Wong, and his discovery of a box of papers that will begin the unraveling of closely guarded family secrets. A character commits suicide and there is some strong language ("s--t," "crap," "bitch," "f--k," and "a--hole"). The novel tackles tough issues -- sexual identity, suicide, and the pressure of high expectations -- that should make for serious discussions between teens and parents.

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What's the story?

As PICTURE US IN THE LIGHT begins, Danny Cheng has what seems to be an enviable life. He's been admitted to Rhode Island School of Design on a full scholarship, fulfilling his and his parents' dreams that he'll become an artist. At school, he has a close circle of friends, including his best friend, Harry Wong, and Harry’s girlfriend, Regina Chan. But Danny's excitement at being accepted at RISD is tempered by the dread and panic he feels at the thought of being separated from Harry. The story unfolds in flashbacks -- Danny's parents' life in China, the family's years in Texas and their move to California, how Danny met Harry and Regina, and the shocking suicide of one of the teens' friends. When Danny discovers a box of papers hidden in a closet, he begins to wonder if his parents have been truthful about the death of the older sister he never knew. But that's not the only secret his parents are keeping from Danny. When his father loses his job and the family is forced to move to another town, he learns that his parents have an even darker secret that will affect both their future and Danny's.

Is it any good?

There's a lot going on in this novel with multiple storylines, shocking secrets, and flashbacks, but it's all grounded by the relatable and likable character of Danny Cheng. Most readers of Picture Us in the Light will probably catch on early to the truth about Danny's feelings for Harry and what really happened to his sister, but the second secret his parents have kept hidden is genuinely surprising.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the pressure to succeed felt by characters in Picture Us in the Light. How do students at your school cope with stress about grades and getting into the right college?

  • Danny gives up a lot to help his parents. Do you think he made the right choice?

  • Has anyone at your school ever died in an accident or committed suicide? How did the students and administration handle it? 

Book details

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