This Into the Light book review takes a spoiler-free look at Mark Oshiro’s latest novel, which follows Manny and Eli as they confront their past and look to a brighter future.
This book has been on my radar for quite awhile. Despite having been aware of the author and their work for a long time, I haven’t had the chance to pick up one of their novels before now, although I have read their short story in Reclaim the Stars, and I’m eagerly anticipating their collaboration with Rick Riordan for The Sun and the Star: A Nico di Angelo Adventure.
In a way, I’m glad I started with Into the Light. I’ve heard amazing things about Mark Oshiro’s other books, like Anger Is a Gift and Each of Us a Desert, but even Mark says in their author’s note that they had to write five other novels before being able to fully dive into this one.
From the get-go, it was obvious this book was a raw and honest portrayal of what it’s like to be cast out from your family and left to survive on your own. For anyone who has been through trauma, who has suffered from complex PTSD, who has been forced to feel ashamed of who they are, this story is for you, and I hope my Into the Light book review does it justice.
Before I start, I do want to warn anyone thinking about reading this book to consider the trigger warnings listed in the back. Parental abuse and religious abuse are rampant throughout, as are depictions of predatory adults and teenage homelessness, as well as talk of the abuse resulting from conversion therapy camps. This book is filled to the brim with heavy topics, but as the title suggests, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Hope exists despite all of the horror and tragedy, and this book offers a cathartic experience like none other I’ve read.
The first person we meet is Manny. He has been homeless for the past year after being kicked out of his adoptive parents’ home. There are dozens of rules he lives by in order to survive, most of which are designed to keep him both physically and emotionally safe, though they all boil down to this—never stay with the same person for long, and don’t reveal anything true about yourself.
Manny’s rules make sense in the context of his situation. There are plenty of people who want to take advantage of him one way or another, and he relives several of those experiences throughout this book. Those scenes are heartbreaking and difficult to consume, and yet they serve an important purpose—to place you in Manny’s shoes. It did not take long to understand why Manny had his rules or to feel as hesitant as he did about meeting new people and trusting them to take him where he needed to go.
For anyone who’s experienced abuse and suffered c-PTSD as a result, this book will speak volumes to you. Oshiro was able to capture the intense feelings of distrust, doubt, self-hatred, and fear that a survivor experiences, even after they’ve been removed from the situation that caused them so much harm. In the beginning of this book, Manny is not living—he is merely surviving. And we’re along for the ride.
By the time the book starts, however, Manny has already broken one of his cardinal rules by staying with the Varela family longer than normal. Because being inside his head is such a visceral experience, you feel as distant to them as Manny does in the beginning. They’re nice enough, but why are they helping him? People aren’t kind for no reason. That’s been his experience, and that mindset has kept him safe for the last year or so.
Quickly, Manny’s world is upended when he catches the news and sees that a body has been discovered outside a secluded community called Reclamation. It’s home to Christ’s Dominion, and it’s also where Manny escaped from a year ago. If you’ve seen even just one documentary about religious cults, then this group and its leader, Deacon Thompson, will set off alarm bells.
But Manny thinks the body could be his sister’s, since she was still there when he left. Despite trying to put distance between himself and Reconciliation for the past year, Manny must turn around and go back. He has to find out if it’s her, and once he makes this decision, he must confront a past he’s tried so hard to forget.
The Varelas are a part of Manny’s journey, and an incredibly necessary aspect to this book. They offer much-needed hope after everything Manny has been through, and though Monica and Ricardo have made their own mistakes, they are trying to right their wrongs. It’s so important to see parents who listen to their kids and believe what they’re telling them. Without a doubt, the Varelas’ presence acted like a soothing balm to all of Manny’s pain, and helped me get to the end of this very difficult read.
Carlos, their son, is also a part of Manny’s healing. Though romance isn’t a huge aspect of this book, it is important nonetheless. Carlos and Manny are as similar as they are different, and it’s this strange connection that makes their relationship foundational. While Carlos doesn’t always wear a smile on his face, he feels deeply and is open with his feelings when necessary. Not only does he offer a safe space for Manny, but he also shows him what his future could look like—happy and bright.
The other aspect of this story I want to mention in my Into the Light book review is the other POV character, Eli. There are three timelines in this book, and two narrators, but Oshiro does a fantastic job of grounding us in each one. Eli, still inside Reconciliation, adds to the mystery of this place and the group that runs it, but his perspective also fills in some gaps in Manny’s story.
The pacing and structure of Into the Light consistently drives you toward the answers that you, Manny, and Eli all seek. As each piece of the puzzle slides into place, the overall picture becomes clearer, and I found myself desperate to reach the end. Like any good thriller, this book kept me guessing until the final chapters. And if you’ve heard about that killer twist at the end—trust me when I say it’s worth it.
Into the Light by Mark Oshiro is a gut-wrenchingly difficult book to read at times, but it makes you feel the catharsis of the resolution much more deeply. Oshiro has done a fantastic job of setting you down inside Manny and Eli’s heads and making you feel what it’s like to live their lives, if only for a time. The true tragedy is that these kinds of stories are a reality for many kids all across the United States, and throughout the rest of the world, who have been abandoned and left to fend for themselves. “This book is my attempt to bring these things into the light,” Oshiro writes in the author’s note. “To be honest about a segment of the American experience of Christian nationalism and adoption that some of us know all too well.”
If you’re willing to listen, Into the Light has plenty to teach you, and I have no doubt in my mind that this story will stay with you for a long time to come.
‘Into the Light’ published on March 28, 2023
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