Lovely, Dark, and Deep – Justina Chen – Arthur A. Levine Books – Published 31 July 2018




What would you do if the sun became your enemy?

That’s exactly what happens to Viola Li after she returns from a trip abroad and develops a sudden and extreme case of photosensitivity — an inexplicable allergy to sunlight. Thanks to her crisis-manager parents, she doesn’t just have to wear layers of clothes and a hat the size of a spaceship. She has to stay away from all hint of light. Say goodbye to windows and running outdoors. Even her phone becomes a threat when its screen burns her.

Viola is determined to maintain a normal life, particularly after she meets Josh. He’s a funny, talented Thor look-alike who carries his own mysterious grief. But the intensity of their romance makes her take more and more risks, and when a rebellion against her parents backfires dangerously, she must find her way to a life — and love — as deep and lovely as her dreams.

My thoughts

Lovely, Dark, and Deep by Justina Chen is a brilliant novel about chasing life even when what that life might be dramatically different from what you were expecting. Lovely, Dark, and Deep is beautifully written, with a likeable heroine and a nice mix of uplifting messages and humour.

Viola has her life all planned out – first travel overseas with her Aunt, then major in journalism before becoming an international foreign correspondent traveling to war zones and other dangerous places to expose and report the truth. But when Viola develops a reaction to the sun, her whole world shifts – first with sizeable hats and an abundance of sunscreen to blackout curtains and limited screen time. Her diagnosis coincides with meeting Josh – graphic novel writer, Thor-look-alike – who carries his own secrets and grief. Viola is sure that her condition will not limit her, but testing the boundaries brings many risks for which even Viola could never have planned.

I loved Justina Chen’s North of Beautiful and Lovely, Dark, and Deep sounded like a perfect novel to recommend to readers who enjoyed Yoon’s Everything, Everything and Gornall’s Under Rose-Tainted Skies. While those two books focus on a girl’s transition from life trapped inside (for various reasons) to exploring beyond their boundaries, Lovely, Dark and Deep starts with a character who has the whole world open in front of her only to have everything change when she develops a skin condition that means she can no longer plan holidays, follow her intended career path or even go outside in the sun.

I loved Viola’s voice. From her little asides and comments, to her lists and humorous take on her parents and their crisis management ways, she makes for a very likeable protagonist and narrator. I also really enjoyed the meeting of her many talents and hobbies, from cooking to researching. Lovely, Dark, and Deep will appeal to many readers with its wide array of interest points, including cooking, graphic novels, writing, travel, and journalism.

Romance is a large part of Lovely, Dark, and Deep but it never overtakes the focus of Viola’s story of coming to terms with her diagnosis and how she will let it impact her life. Lovely, Dark, and Deep is ultimately a coming-of-age story, about friendship, family, and love, about boundaries, grief, goals, dreams, overcoming challenges and living life no matter what.

I loved the symbolism portrayed through the formatting – each chapter page slowly darkening until reaching the deepest of black, and the text on those chapter title pages changing from black to white at a pivotal moment. The use of lists, segments from Viola’s parent’s Crisis Management Handbook and other little formatted sections from Viola (often humorous) make Lovely, Dark, and Deep all the more interesting, unique and enjoyable.

Lovely, Dark, and Deep is a wonderful YA contemporary novel about facing the challenges of life and learning to adjust, a celebration of love and the craziness of family, and a positive, diverse representation of disability.

The publishers provided an advanced readers copy of this book for reviewing purposes. All opinions are my own.

More information

Category: Young adult fiction.

Genre: Contemporary.

Themes: Photosensitivity, romance, cooking, journalism, family, crisis management, health, illness, activism.

Reading age guide: Ages 12 and up.

Advisory: Occasional coarse language, as****** (3).

Published:  31 July 2018 by Arthur A. Levine Books.

Format: Hardcover, ebook. 352 pages.

ISBN: 9781338134063

Find it on Goodreads