Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert

The recent representation of Asian-Americans in film and literature has been thundering the media. From the more obvious success of Crazy Rich Asians and Fresh Off the Boat to the smaller-rooted Netflix film “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” (and it’s soon-to-be sequel), the portrayal of Asian families has skyrocketed, building new stepping stones in which the small society of its own is rendered in society as a whole.

Kelly Loy Gilbert’s second novel, Picture Us in the Light, is a beautifully crafted story revolving around the Asian-American cultural hub in San Francisco. Picture Us in the Light follows eighteen-year-old Danny Cheng, as he struggles with his pursuit of artistic inspiration (post-college acceptance to an art and design school) and finding footholds in his graying, mysterious family life. Accompanied by long-time friends Harry and Regina, Danny unearths his family’s deep past piece by piece and discovering small realizations about himself and the relationships he has with those he loves most in his life.

As Danny jockeys with the slow, difficult reveal of his parents’ secrets and tries to find some balance over what he does and doesn’t know about his own identity, the audience is presented with the intense and haunting realities of global immigration. Every turn of the page brought a new feeling of suspense — each time we were given new information, the plot became more and more complex, heading a dozen different ways at once.

Being Asian-American myself, I found the story delightfully relatable in a small-scale way that it was powdered with concise “Asian insider” instances that I could relate to — the abundance of food, the hefty trips to Costco and Ranch 99, the intensive preparation for big exams.

The featured family in the novel, the Chengs, center the majority of their conflicts and victories over meals, which is extremely relatable to me in the way that family bonds over food. Just this seemingly insignificant instance opens up huge discussion for literary meaning (communion occurs over cuisine, perhaps?), but also exhibits how striking and intimately real the characters and situations Gilbert creates are.

Picture Us in the Light, published just over a year ago, is one of YA’s most down-to-earth and honest storylines thus far. Gilbert brings together shattering occurrences with the small moments of merriment, joining together two of our center emotions into a heart wrenching and, slowly, heartwarming book.

     So, as we are, picture us enchanted by Gilbert’s authentic and profound capability for storytelling.

—Keira D.

Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Anything But Okay by Sarah Darer Littman

Anything But Okay by Sarah Darer Littman is about Stella Walker, a junior in high school. She is like most other teenage girls, but her whole life is shaken up once her older brother, Rob, returns from serving as a Marine. Her brother is suffering from PTSD, and a lack of resources from the VA means the family has to wait for counseling. Unfortunately, Rob gets agitated and punches a boy in the face at the mall after the boy was harassing a worker by saying “go back to your country.” In the politicized climate of the town mayor running from election, many say that Rob is a terrorist sympathizer. This extreme dialogue affects her best friend and family, who is Muslim.

Dealing with the turmoil of all this by running for class president, Stella must tell the right side of the story and be able to diffuse the tension. Anything But Okay is a powerful novel for teenagers to read because of the topics explored are a reflection of the ones in our community today. By telling the story in the point of view of Stella, the novel gives young adults someone  they can relate to and learn from.

This novel was different because of how relatable it is to society today. It gives a hypothetical, but startling, scenario, where lies fueled by speculation can spread like wildfire and do almost as much damage as one. I would recommend this book not only to teenagers, but adults as well to understand a fresh perspective about the political turmoil in the news.

-Anmol K.

Anything But Okay by Sarah Darer Littman is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if your family left behind everything you knew and moved to a remote African village? Probably not, but that is the scenario that the Price family faces as they embark on their missionary trip to the Congo in Barbara Kingsolver’s novel, The Poisonwood Bible. There are five members of the price family. Nathan Price is a firm willed Baptist pastor, determined to right the “evils” of Africa. Orleanna is Nathan’s wife, and is lost in the identity of her husband. Their daughters, Rachel, Leah, Adah, and Ruth May each react to their new home in different ways- and to the tragedy which soon befalls them. The family gets more than they bargained for when their Baptist evangelist mission is swept up in the Congolese revolution, and the government- and their world- falls apart around them.

The Poisonwood Bible deals with a topic that is all too often glanced over in modern society: the effect of European colonialism. The Congo that the Price family visits is broken politically and economically. Additionally, it explores the idea of gender through Orleanna, who has lost her own identity and lives for her husband instead. The idea of voice is also thoroughly explored by Kingsolver, who rotates the book’s narration chapter by chapter. Sometimes the story is narrated by materialistic Rachel, other times by dedicated Leah, sometimes by five year-old Ruth May. The only member of the Price family who does not narrate is the father, Nathan Price, whose character can be vividly constructed through the insight of all of the Price women. Because such a diverse cast is narrating the story, not only is the book engaging, the reader is able to see every facet of the trials of the Prices in Africa- and see how each character reacts to a tragedy which befalls them, whether that be through denial or guilt.

This book is so valuable, and reading it is an experience in itself. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a good read that is steeped in nuance and artfully written, in which political and religious references abound.

-Mirabella S.

The Posionwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Film Review: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

This amazing rom-com movie was released through Netflix on August 17, 2018. Normally, the thought of a romantic movie makes me cringe, but when I first saw the trailer for the movie, I was immediately hooked.

This movie is based on the book series To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before written by Jenny Han. I personally have not read the books (but planning to read them later). This story has everything from romance, to comedy, to the important lessons every teenager should know not only life but love as well.

The movie is about a girl named Lara Jean Covey. She is half-American and half-Korean. Her mother passed away when she was young, so her father raises her and two other sisters (one older, one younger) by himself. Basically, the main plot of the story is that Lara Jean has these five letters. She writes them when she has a crush, “..so intense, [she] doesn’t know what else to do..” One day she finds that all the letters have been sent out… all FIVE of them!! The recipients of the letters are Peter Kavinsky, played by Noah Centineo (a dreamboat may I add), who is the hottest boy in school, John Ambrose from Model UN, Lucas from homecoming, Kenny from camp, and Josh, the boy next door (who is her older sister’s boyfriend).

The rest of the movie is just about how she handles the whole situation, and the lessons she learns along the way. I totally recommend this movie. It is an amazing movie with an Asian lead– which you don’t see very often.

Jenny Han’s novel, To All the Boys I Loved Before, is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Divergent by Veronica Roth

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This is probably one of the most well-read books among teenagers. Personally, I’ve read the series multiple times not just because of its intriguing plot, but because of its interwoven themes that resonate with me every time I read it.

Divergent is a science-fiction novel centered around dystopian Chicago and its society, divided into five factions based on attributes of honesty, selflessness, bravery, peacefulness, and intelligence. The story takes a turn when Beatrice Prior, 16, makes a life-changing decision to live in a different faction. The catch is she must completely abandon her family and strive to fit in a world she is extremely unaccustomed to.

My favorite character is the protagonist, Tris. She is extremely intelligent, brave, and selfless, which is why she is called Divergent. In her society, being compatible for more than one faction is rare, but also dangerous. Tris proves to be exactly that because of her will to see things for what they are and make her own decisions. It was rewarding to watch her develop from a shy, quiet girl into a strong fighter that became a leader.

What made this book great was how realistic it seemed. It was eye-opening to read about a society that is so different from my own, yet not so far-fetched. It makes the reader wonder what it would be like to be a character in the book. And for me, that’s what made this book so good. I definitely recommend reading this book if you haven’t already.

-Meagan A.

The Divergent series by Veronica Roth is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Million Dollar Throw by Mike Lupica

Million Dollar Throw by Mike Lupica is the inspiring story of true friendship. Nate Brodie is a massive Tom Brady fan. Because of that and his arm he is often called Brady. He plays quarterback for his school football team in Massachusetts. Nate starts feeling a lot of pressure when his dad loses his job twice, his mother has to start working two jobs, and one of his closest friends named Abby McCall starts going blind. This pressure affects Nate on and off the field, but Nate soon realizes that his pressure is very little compared to others. Abby then learns that she may have to go to a special school for the blind, and this harms Abby and Nate’s friendship even more. Nate hears about a throwing contest held by the Patriots, Nate’s favorite team. Nate decides to go to the event and see if he could win. The night of the contest comes quickly, and before Nate knows it it’s time to leave for it. At the contest, Nate meets his role model Tom Brady and wins the throwing contest. The prize is one million dollars which Nate offers to Abby for a surgery that could fix her eyesight.

-Emilio V.

Million Dollar Throw by Mike Lupica is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck

Ethan Hawley is very satisfied with his life as a market clergy. He has a happy family but they are also unhappy with the amount of money that he earns. For me though, I think the best part of a family is not the amount of money that they have, but everyone loves each other.

Mr. Banker is a nice person but he sometimes can be a little snobbish and selfish. Although I would be ecstatic to have him as a friend because he is always there for you. I don’t know how a little girl like Ella Hawley can be so mature, but she acts like a grown-up woman to her dad Ethan Hawley.

The saddest part for me was when Marullo, Ethan’s boss got deported because he was an illegal immigrant. I really want to give him a pat on the shoulder because he is a very nice and kind person, it’s just that he doesn’t reveal his geniality very easily. It’s a winter when everybody has their own dissatisfaction, but at the end, a lesson can be learned: we should be glad about our life as always.

-April L.

The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library