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

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Simon Snow: the Chosen One, the greatest Mage the world has seen, and possessor of an exceeding amount of magic. Who would expect a boy of such prestige to be an orphan? Simon is told time and time again that those with magic flowing through their veins don’t give up their children–magic simply isn’t dispensable. So why is Simon Snow, legatee of such a copious amount of magical power, a foundling?

At the age of eleven, Simon is taken from the care home he’d been dwelling at by the Mage, a powerful and esteemed man who holds the position of headmaster at Watford, a school for people who possess magical blood. As Simon is the only orphaned student, the Mage cares for him, and makes sure that every September, after a summer spent at a care home, Simon gets safely to Watford.

In Carry On, Simon is entering his eighth and final year at Watford, which proves to be quite tumultuous. The year starts off ordinarily enough. Simon strategizes with his best friend, Penelope Bunce, about how to best defeat the Insidious Humdrum, an absurd yet aggravatingly quick-witted and bothersome creature who has seemingly atrocious intentions. He had, in previous years, made multiple attempts at castigating the magical world and Simon Snow in particular.

Simon, Penny (Penelope), and Agatha (Simon’s girlfriend) continue to speculate upon the different threats and issues that the Humdrum’s actions have caused, but their efforts thus far have led them nowhere. After an unsettling encounter with a departed soul, Simon ends up forging a shaky, yet advantageous truce with his roommate, Tyrannus Basilton Grimm-Pitch, a bitter and austere boy who has done nothing but provoke and nag Simon at every chance he gets. However, despite the facade of icy forbiddingness he puts forward, Basil may have trouble keeping his true feelings for Simon in check.

Simon Snow and his story was originally introduced in Fangirl, another phenomenal novel by Rainbow Rowell, as a fictional series that Cath (the protagonist in Fangirl) is obsessed with. Small excerpts of Simon Snow are featured in Fangirl, but Rowell thought that it deserved its own book, so that is the reason for which she wrote Carry On.

I entirely adored this book. I fell in love with the characters (Baz is my favorite!), and I fell in love with the world Rowell created. I extol how significantly she strayed from her normal style of realistic fiction and how she was able to create such a vivid and enticing world. Another thing that I enjoyed about this book was how Rowell switched perspectives so that the reader could get a clear and full picture of what was going through each of the characters’ minds.

This book was such a compelling and fascinating read, and I will definitely read it again in the future. The characters are all very endearing, and I loved the relationship between Simon and Baz: sworn enemies who have united against an evil cause. Will their truce only heighten their hatred toward each other, or will it bring them closer together?

-Elina T.

 

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles

Middle school shouldn’t be a time for people to be put under so much stress. But, Fern, a twelve-year-old girl, has to deal with much more than she should.

Her father is constantly trying to boost business for the family restaurant, and unfortunately, Fern often gets pulled into the mess, being forced to wear stupid t-shirts for ads. Her mother is always meditating, and on the rare occasion that she’s not, she’s doting over Fern’s three-year-old brother Charlie, who always gets what he wants.

As if that weren’t enough, her two older siblings are dealing with their own problems that often end up affecting the entire family. Sarah, her older sister, is taking a gap year after high school and is busy avoiding work, while Holden, Fern’s brother, is focused on making himself believe that his parents don’t realize that he’s gay.

But then something catastrophic happens – something Fern would have never expected, and it changes all of their lives tremendously. Ran is Fern’s only solace in this huge mess, with his soothing presence, and his t-shirts with positive and encouraging quotes. She must rely on his mantra: “all will be well” to convince herself that she will be able to get through all of this.

I didn’t really know anything about this book before reading it, but I was looking for something to read, and thought this book looked interesting. I was pleasantly surprised at how good it was and read the whole thing in one day. The book itself isn’t very long-so it’s a fairly quick read. But, it is pretty deep, and it’s definitely filled with a lot of emotion.

Although the author, Jo Knowles, did grow up helping out at her parent’s family restaurant, the characters in this book are fictional. However I felt that she did an amazing job at describing and developing these characters. I could easily imagine a family like Fern’s to be out there somewhere.

I really love this book despite the fact that it is very sad. If you do end up reading it, which I highly recommend doing, make sure to have a tissue box nearby.

-Elina T.

Authors We Love: Alex Sanchez

photo by Bill Hitz

photo by Bill Hitz

Over the past several years acceptance for the LGBT community in mainstream culture has vastly increased. Media has played a large role in this with everything from TV shows and movies to music to comics books and novels all including LGBT characters. One author that has played a large role in this is Alex Sanchez. He has written several award winning novels including So Hard to Say, Getting It, The God Box, Bait, and Boyfriends with Girlfriends as well as the Rainbow trilogy (Rainbow Boys, Rainbow High, and Rainbow Road).

so_hard_to_sayAll of his book are wonderfully written with captivating storylines. He does a wonderful job of exploring issues relating to the LGBT community.  While the overall theme of his books is about acceptance and being who you are each book approaches the subject differently. So Hard to Say is aimed at younger readers (around middle school age) and has won a Lambda Literary Award. One of his other books deal with religion and sexuality while another deals with bisexuality. All of his books are absolutely amazing but personally I think that the two that really shine are The God Box and Boyfriends with Girlfriends.

The God Box deals with the issue of whether Christianity can co-exist with identifying as LGBT. It follows the story of Paul, a very religious teenager from a small, conservative town. His world gets turned upside down when he meets Manuel. Paul is stumped by Manuel because he says that he is Christian and yet also says he is gay, something that Paul can’t fathom co-existing. Manuel’s interpretations of the Bible causes Paul to re-examine his whole life as feelings he had been trying to suppress, begin to surface. The story in the The God Box includes very eye-opening interpretations of the Bible and is a must read from Alex Sanchez.

boyfriends_girlfriendsBoyfriends with Girlfriends does something that is still being largely ignored by the media even with the growing acceptance of the LGBT community, it includes bisexual characters. The story revolves around four teenagers, Sergio who is bisexual, Lance and Kimiko who are gay, and Allie who is questioning her sexuality. This is a great story of the ups and downs of teen dating, whether it is occurring in the LGBT community or not. This novel also does a good job of exploring different acceptance levels from family members. What I think is really great about this book is the fact that it includes bisexual characters. Often in all forums of media bisexual characters are either completely ignored, regarded as not a real thing, or highly sexualized. Boyfriends with Girlfriends does a wonderful job of avoiding these pitfalls and creating characters that are believable and relatable to all teens.

Overall, Alex Sanchez is an incredible author whose work also holds incredible value. Whether you identify as part of the LGBT community or as an ally, his books are amazing reads that should not be missed. The world needs more books like his.

-Angela J., 12th grade