Book: Into the Light
Author: Mark Oshiro
Publisher: Tor Teen
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Synopsis: “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 found in the hills of Idylwild, California, will draw both of these young men into facing their biggest fears and confronting their own identity – and who ethyl 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.”
Review: In both the ARC pamphlet I received with this book and the author’s note at the end of the book, Oshiro alludes to a childhood trauma that inspired and birthed this book, what I suspect, based on little tidbits throughout Into the Light, was conversion camp. The air of conversion, of being forced to undergo something dangerous, something heartless, and cruel at the hands of the people who should be the most loving and protective forces in your life, runs throughout this book. While it isn’t at all about that type of conversion, it is about the damage that the church causes at the hands of people who have no business holding positions of power.
Into the Light follows Manny, a young adult who grew up with his sister Elena, bouncing from foster home to foster home, seeing the worst of the worst, and finding that as he gets older the likelihood of seeing a real adoption happen grows smaller and smaller. Manny and Elena, however, find themselves being adopted blindly into a family with direct ties to a cult-ish christian community called Christ’s Dominion. The family quickly decides that Manny needs to participate in something called Reconciliation and sends both he and his sister to a three-day “retreat” in the Californian mountains. What Manny experiences at Reconciliation is not quite conversion camp, but it is detrimental, traumatic, and extremely dangerous. He arrives to find that all the families in attendance are white with adoptive children who are not, across the board, most have come directly from other countries, several from within the foster system, and all with something deemed wrong with them – whether that be their gender identity, their sexual preferences, or the color of their skin.
Into the Light is told from Manny’s perspective, jumping from the present, as he lives his life with the newly found Varela family traveling the country trying to find his sister Elena, to the past as he experiences Reconciliation, and yet from a third time period as he (known as Eli, having succeeded in Reconciliation in some ambiguous, nebulous way) lives his life at the compound in the mountains, sharing his success story with newcomers and their “wrong” children. I found this style to be confusing, as the chapters had no headings to tell you what point of view you would be reading – the perspective shift was shown by a slight change in font that got more confusing as the story ramped up and all three perspectives were being shared closer together than they had previously in order to get to the climax of Manny’s journey with Christ’s Dominion. I think some headers would have been a huge help particularly as the book wrapped up, jumping quickly from one perspective to another in order to round out the entirety of the narrative.
My biggest issue with this book is the plot twist at the end, I think it detracted from the weight of the story, took away from the very real issues being discussed in the book, and didn’t serve a function. We read through 90% of the novel as a realistic fiction book, yes quite troubling and pointed, but not a horror novel in that sense. With about 10% of the book remaining, the “truth” is revealed and the book becomes sci-fi or horror in an unrealistic kind of way, which I tend to enjoy but not when it shifts the entirety of the book into a new genre with no time to spare. I felt like there were some many important aspects of this book, so many important things being discussed in a first-person narrative that need to be spoken, that need to have a light shed on them, that when Oshiro changed the book with a strange plot twist that took Manny’s separation from Eli from being explainable as trauma, which he absolutely endured, to being explainable as a sci-fi impossibility it lessoned the weight of what Oshiro was trying to get across. Suddenly we have nothing more than a science fiction book with a weird ending that’s so disjointed from the majority of the book that I don’t know how to reconcile the two, and frankly I think that does a huge disservice to what Oshiro could have achieved.
With a rise in anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation, a rise in christian nationalism, and a rise in spoken hatred, books like Into the Light that share what children are really experiencing at the hands of people who should be doing their best to protect them are incredibly important. I found it disappointing that this book shifted in the way it did, that the twist wasn’t more seamlessly included throughout the rest of the book, and I left it thinking more about how disjointed it was than I did thinking about how realistic the rest of it was for thousands of teens and young adults across the country. Manny’s story, and by proxy, Oshiro’s personal story, deserve to be told and heard and believed with compassion and care and love. I fear that the twist has only served to detract from something so important.
Advice: This book contains depictions of the foster care system, of sexual harassment of a minor, of religious trauma, of conversion, of racism, of parental abandonment, of physical assault, and of very real trauma and ptsd experiences following. It is, however, a great read that moves swiftly and keeps you reading to see what’s going to happen. I think if you like a singular viewpoint told from multiple timeframes, you’ll probably read through this and really enjoy it. If you find that style to be confusing, this might not be the best or easiest book to read. If you have experienced religious trauma or conversion, this may be a pretty intense and difficult read for you as well.