I knew I was going to enjoy this book when I first read about it – I’m drawn to books that focus on teens dealing with realistic issues, whether they be medical issues, social issues, etc. When I came across Lovely, Dark, and Deep by Christina Chen, I fell in love with the cover, the synopsis, and let’s face it – the super awesome way the pages get darker and darker gradually as the book goes on (it’s really cool – I highly recommend checking the physical edition of this book out). So yes, Lovely, Dark, and Deep not only grabbed my attention due to its physical appeal, but the story itself was completely original, fun to read, and the characters were so easy to develop a kind of connection with.
Lovely, Dark, and Deep not only has a catchy title and an absolutely fantastic synopsis, but the writing within the pages of this book flows perfectly. Justina Chen has such a talent for writing, and while I have to say I haven’t read any of her other books, reading this one has prompted me to have a desire to collect all of her others and read those, as well.
Also, the constant Firefly love in this book had me falling head over heels – I’m a Firefly fan, too (as well as a baking fan), so I felt like I could really connect with the main character – I wanted her as a best friend!
“‘We think we have control over everything, only we don’t. At all.'”
When eighteen year old Viola Li has a strange reaction when she is selling her baked goods to raise money, she isn’t prepared for the news that will follow: she has a type of photosensitivity, which means she is essentially having allergic reactions to the sun. While this type of skin issue isn’t unheard of, it certainly is rare, and it’s about to chance Viola’s life. When she wakes up after passing out, she notices the guy that caught her at the bake sale is still there, waiting to see if she is okay – and her parents are nervous wrecks, trying to figure out what happened and demanding answers.
When they get the answers they need, it turns out they are ones that Viola feels are going to mess up her life plans – going to the college of her dreams and become a journalist – out in the middle of all the action. Since she loved traveling with aunt as a gift for her seventeenth birthday, she can’t wait. Only the medication she took to prevent her from getting malaria might be to blame for her developing her skin condition – no one can be sure, but her parents are being harder on her than ever in an attempt to keep her safe.
When Viola starts to develop a crush, and then a relationship, with the guy who stayed with her when she passed out, it’s difficult – after all, she can’t go outside, and it’s becoming difficult to convince her parents to let her see him, because they believe he is bad for her. So they do what they can – sneaking out at night, talking on the phone, etc.
“What happens when you spend thirteen straight hours in front of a computer and phone and you’ve got a more extreme case of photosensitivity than you, your parents, and the medical community realized? You get burned.'”
Eventually, Viola starts to become burned by screens, as well – meaning she can no longer spend hours browsing the web or watching television or talking on the phone, unless it’s on speaker phone. So her parents limit her screen time as well as changing out the light bulbs, installing screens on the windows, and no longer letting her drive. Viola is, essentially, on lockdown away from the world, away from the guy who she has a connection with who doesn’t feel like she’s a freak.
So Viola retreats into herself, not talking to her aunt, who feels guilty and like it could be her fault Viola has this condition, or her overprotective parents, or her best friends who try to help her. Instead, she wishes she could see Josh, the guy she’s falling for, and she can’t help but feel horrible that all of her life plans might not happen the way she wants them to.
“Maybe we’re all scared of something and just doing our best to live in what feels like a hard, unpredictable, and scary world.”
Through it all, Viola has to come to terms with her skin condition, as well as what it means for her – school, friendships, and dating. It’s difficult for her, of course, but she has to learn that sometimes things change, and while accepting that is often hard, doing so can open you up to a whole new realm of possibilities.
I really loved this book. Like, I haven’t loved a contemporary the way I loved this one in a long time – I was hooked from the first page (I mean, the Firefly references really pulled me in), and I loved the characters. Viola’s character just felt like she was so real and authentic – like nothing about her was forced. Her relationship with Josh was one of those neat relationships that didn’t feel like the characters were pushed together. There was actually chemistry there. I loved that. I loved their relationship. It was so real.
There was a lot of family involvement in this book, too – Viola’s parents, little sister, and aunt had a huge presence in the book and I loved that. I always enjoy a book that has a lot of family involvement, and this one did – even though Viola’s parents seemed a bit overprotective (then again, if Viola were my daughter, I would be, too), they truly cared for her and her well being, and I think that was something that really made this book into something more special than it already was.
Since I honestly didn’t know anything about photosensitivity, I feel like I learned a lot from this book. I actually did some of my own research after reading it, because I was truly curious about it. I highly recommend that to those who are curious, because it’s really eye-opening.
I can’t wait to read some of Justina Chen’s other novels, because I love the way she writes her characters, and the story in Lovely, Dark, and Deep really had a lot of heart. Definitely pick this one up!
“A luminous read that will rekindle your faith in the indomitable human spirit and make you want to spend more time in starlight.” ―Matthew Quick, author of The Silver Linings Playbook and Every Exquisite Thing
“Viola’s story explores one of life’s big questions: are we defined by our losses or will we allow them to lead us into an even more meaningful hero’s journey? In Lovely, Dark, and Deep,Justina Chen has crafted an inspiring, romantic novel full of redemption and hope for teens and adults alike.” ―Mitali Perkins, author of You Bring the Distant Near
Storytelling runs in Justina Chen’s blood. After all, her middle name means illuminate, which is what story does: it throws light on a message.
Justina is an award-winning author of six books for young adults. Her forthcoming novel, Lovely, Dark, and Deep, will be available in Spring, 2018. Her most recent book, A BLIND SPOT FOR BOYS, is on a Booklist Top 10 list. NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL was named one of the Best Books of the Year by Kirkus Reviews and was a finalist of 9 state book awards. And her debut novel, NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH (AND A FEW WHITE LIES), won the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature.
In addition to being a writer, Justina is a story strategist to leaders and co-founder of Chen & Cragen, a boutique communications agency that transforms good executives into extraordinary leaders. Seen as a thought leader in communications, the Rockefeller Foundation invited Justina to be part of their twelve-person convening on storytelling for social good, along with CNN, BBC, NPR, and Google. Translation: she got to spend some quality time with amazing storytellers on the shores of Lake Bellagio.
A passionate advocate of literacy, Justina also co-founded readergirlz, a cutting-edge social media project for teens, which was awarded the National Book Foundation’s Prize for Innovations in Reading. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Stanford University where she won the Dean’s Award for Service.
Justina has lived in Sydney and Shanghai, but calls Seattle her home.
PHOTO CONTENT FROM JUSTINA CHEN
3 Winners will receive an ARC Copy of LOVELY, DARK, AND DEEP and Mini-Lanterns by Justina Chen
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