Hoping to be the next great foreign correspondent, Viola Wynne Li plans to attend New York University Abu Dhabi when she graduates from Liberty Prep School in Seattle. Intent on being a voice for the powerless and the homeless, Viola envisions herself as a truth-teller in a conflict zone, one who covers “the forgotten issues, the ones more convenient to ignore” (117).
Also passionate about comics, Viola especially loves Firefly, and considers her own super power to be researching. Not only does knowledge empower, but data prepares a person to make a good decision in difficult circumstances. She and her friends Aminta and Caresse are members of Geeks for Good, an organization committed to raising awareness for a cause by having bake sales. Viola is fond of saying, “Name a cause, any cause, and I have mixed, baked, and frosted for it” (24).
According to Viola, travel is job training. She needs to be brave enough to face anything so that she can “go to war torn places and confront what is going on without running from the story” (65). However, after travelling to Ghana and Tanzania with her Auntie Ruth and taking malaria medication as a precaution, Viola develops both solar urticaria and polymorphous light eruption (PMLE)—conditions that indicate she is sensitive to light and allergic to the sun. Now, she has to rethink her world-saving plans. Instead of feeling safe and sunshiny with boyfriend possibilities, Viola must construct a worst-case contingency plan for herself.
Her parents, the principals and cofounders of Lee & Li Communications—are a seasoned crisis management team. Because they believe that “willful neglect of an issue is what turns minor concerns into major crises” (84), they seek to micromanage Viola’s condition, invading her privacy and translating every particle and nuance of her fear, anxiety, and shame.
Only Josh Taylor, a Thor-look alike, seems to give Viola the space and support she needs. But Josh is suffering from his own demons, blaming himself for his twin brother Caleb’s death. His grief, guilt, and fear may make him poor girlfriend material.
As Viola is tugged into the bleak waters of hopelessness, she learns that being pampered is a prison in its own way. To accentuate Viola’s photosensitivity and her slipping into darkness, even the pages of Justina Chen’s novel, Lovely, Dark, and Deep go from white, to various shades of gray, to black. In her transformation, Viola not only learns that hurt can seep into even the most reinforced places, but that love has that same power. She also learns to appreciate the beauty of the darkness; after all, there is still starlight.
With Lovely, Dark, and Deep, Chen tells a poignant story about human hurt and healing; in the process, her novel imparts this gem of truth: “Maybe we’re all scared of something and just doing our best to live in what feels like a hard, unpredictable, scary world” (286). From Viola’s mom, Auntie Ruth, Josh, and Viola herself, readers will gather strategies for living through “the good, the bad, the deeply awful, and the extremely joyful” (316) aspects of life.
- Posted by Donna