Hello, everyone! Today I’m reviewing a book that surprised me in so many ways and left me feeling completely exhausted emotionally (but in a good way). The YA mystery/thriller Into the Light by Mark Oshiro will be published on March 28, 2023.
KEEP YOUR SECRETS CLOSE TO HOME
It’s been one year since Manny was cast out of his family and driven into the wilderness of the American Southwest. Since then, Manny lives by self-taught rules that keep him moving—and keep him alive. Now, he’s taking a chance on a traveling situation with the Varela family, whose attractive but surly son, Carlos, seems to promise a new future.
Eli abides by the rules of his family, living in a secluded community that raised him to believe his obedience will be rewarded. But an unsettling question slowly eats away at Eli’s once unwavering faith in Reconciliation: Why can’t he remember his past?
But the reported discovery of an unidentified body in the hills of Idyllwild, California, will draw both of these young men into facing their biggest fears and confronting their own identity—and who they are allowed to be.
For fans of Courtney Summers and Tiffany D. Jackson, Into the Light is a ripped-from-the-headlines story with Oshiro’s signature mix of raw emotions and visceral prose—but with a startling twist you’ll have to read to believe.
***Thank you to Tor Teen for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley. My review contains my honest thoughts about my reading experience.***
I did not enjoy reading this book. It made me extremely uncomfortable. I’ll be honest. I picked this one up because of its cover and its classification as YA LGBT fiction without knowing much about it. I don’t think I even read the synopsis. I really should have, and I definitely should have heeded the trigger warnings. This brought up so many memories and emotions about my childhood growing up in a fundamentalist Christian church, and none of them were happy. There was so much spiritual abuse/trauma in this book, and some of the experiences were so accurately described that I had horribly visceral reactions to them.
The writing took some time to like. It was very terse and acerbic while also being stream of consciousness. Once I became accustomed to it, I did like it, though, because it set up the mindset of Manny perfectly. He was secretive, often stuck in his own head, slow to trust, and always on the move. The writing matched his personality perfectly and added an extra dimension to the character building. The story bounced around between three different periods of time, but it was relatively easy to keep track of everything going on. The pace was steady, and I couldn’t stop turning the pages to see what clues to Manny’s past might be dropped next.
There was a wide range of themes addressed in this book. The horrors of Christian fundamentalism and the damage it can do to children, especially queer children, were front and center. The story also tackled racism, the foster care system, and teen homelessness, and the portrayal was agonizing at times. My heart broke for Manny and all the terrible things he experienced in his young life. Most importantly, though, I was astonished by his perseverance, strength, and unwavering belief in the validity of his sense of self no matter how bad things got for him. Despite being incredibly rough, his journey also highlighted the healing power of connection and the hope provided by finding people who accept you. I loved getting to see Manny slowly open up to his new found family and gradually tear down the walls he built to protect himself after being habitually hurt in the past. It illustrated that no matter how bad things have been there is always the possibility of joy around the corner, as long as you keep yourself open to experiencing it.
I had mixed feelings about the twist. On a symbolic level, the imagery was vivid. It perfectly captured the feeling of being split between wanting so badly to fit in by putting doubts aside to believe what you’re told and wanting to just be you and live authentically. This was something I struggled with so much as a teen in the church. More than anything, I wanted to believe like everyone else and be normal. I couldn’t because it just wasn’t me, and it made me feel horrible and dead inside. This book is the only thing I’ve ever read that comes anywhere close to describing those complex feelings. However, on a plot level, I hated the twist. It felt like a cop out after waiting so long for an explanation to the mystery. It came out of nowhere and was never really addressed by any of the characters in a meaningful way.
While this was definitely not a fun read by any means, I think it was a profound one. I have no doubt it will quickly be banned everywhere with a conservative majority, which is a shame. It highlighted important and timely themes while providing an emotionally compelling story and a thrilling mystery. I’m glad I read it despite not knowing what I was getting myself into. lol. Therefore, I rate this book 5 out of 5 stars.