Excerpt from Picture Us In The Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Picture Us In The Light

by Kelly Loy Gilbert

Picture Us In The Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert X
Picture Us In The Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2018, 368 pages

    Aug 2019, 320 pages


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Michelle Anya Anjirbag
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Years ago before there was me, while all that cosmic dust that would become my cells was still spinning and cycling through the eons of the universe, there was the image of a life. A better one, I guess, according to whatever calculations my parents were going by then, and so they let go of the world I would've been born into, the only world they knew; they held to the promise of that new life and crossed an ocean and tied our destinies to everyone we'd find on the other shores.

The three of us live in Cupertino now, in the Bay Area—six thousand miles from Shiyan, China, where my parents are from. From what I've looked up, it's pretty there: craggy green mountains rising into the sky, the city cradled between the peaks. You can take a gondola up the mountain. When my parents were growing up, there wasn't too much to do there except work in the auto factories, and they both went to Wuhan University, five hours away, and met when they were just a little older than I am now.

They moved first to Texas, where they were students, and then California, where my dad got a job in a lab for a physics professor, which is what he's always planned to become. By day, he studied indirect excitons—don't ask—but on the side, nights and weekends when the lab was a ghost town and his boss wasn't around to see, my dad was conducting a secret experiment.

The experiment was about quantum entanglement, which my dad explained to me once this way: if atoms interact with one another, then even after they separate they'll keep behaving as though they're still connected. The way they move, or decay—everything will be reflected across the entire entangled system. Once, when I was in third grade, before he'd told us anything about his experiment, my dad brought me and my mom in to show us. We went on a Sunday, after hours. On the drive to his lab my dad was animated, excited and nervous both, and he talked fast and kept looking over at my mom to see how much she was listening and it gave me the feeling that somehow, whatever it was he was doing, it was for her.

My dad's experiment went like this: he'd bring in pairs of people who fell into three categories: people who'd never met, people who'd met a few times, and people who were close family. With each pair, he'd take a picture of one person, and then he'd separate the two people into different rooms at opposite ends of the hall. In one of the two rooms was a screen. He'd set up each person with a blood pressure cuff, a thermometer, and electrodes to measure brain waves and blood volume. When people's vital signs had stabilized, he'd take measurements, and then in the room with the screen he'd flash the photograph of the person you'd been paired up with.

The people who were in there watching the screen, the results were pretty predictable. For the strangers, there was no reaction; their bodies didn't care if they were thinking about the other stranger or not. For the people shown photographs of their loved ones, there'd be some kind of flush—a definite physiological reaction. For the acquaintances, it was more sporadic.

But it was the other ones who mattered, the ones down the hall a hundred yards away without a photograph. Because: for the family members, their physical responses matched their partners'. If you printed out the physical reactions, side by side, they would match perfectly. If it was your mother or wife or son or brother down the hall, when they were thinking of you, you knew. Your body knew, your atoms knew, you felt it somehow when they did. My dad claimed the odds that this would be a random coincidence were so staggering that you'd have an easier time trying to prove the existence of God.

That day, I told my dad I wanted to be the one who was looking at the picture. That part seemed easier, and I was afraid otherwise I'd screw it up, and I could tell how desperately he wanted this to go right. My dad took me next door to the first room, and I sat in the swiveling chair across from the TV screen.

Excerpted from Picture Us In The Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert. Copyright © 2018 by Kelly Loy Gilbert. Excerpted by permission of Disney-Hyperion. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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