Self-Portrait With Boy, by Rachel Lyon

Self-Portrait With Boy is Rachel Lyon’s debut novel, and it’s an impressive work.

The story centers around a young female artist in New York City who, while taking a selfie in her apartment, accidentally photographs a young boy falling to his death. Lu Rile realizes this photograph is the best work of her life and she finds herself increasingly conflicted with her relationships – specifically when finding new friendship with the boy’s mother. Set in the early 90’s, it’s refreshing to be immersed in this story in a pre-gentrified and pre-smartphone Brooklyn.

It’s not long before you’re engrossed in Lu’s struggles, working multiple jobs and the constant worry of her father. Yet her big break presents itself as an opportunity to show the photograph at a SoHo gallery. Can she enjoy success from something so tragic?

I especially enjoyed the way Rachel describes the seasons and how Lu’s apartment feels completely different in summer than in winter. As a reader, you appreciate the crystal clear imagery of a pre-renovated artist’s building that’s not quite fit for residents where much of this tale unfolds.

Self-Portrait With Boy demonstrates superb storytelling with deep and expertly crafted characters. I highly recommend this book simply because of how it makes you feel.

The Los Angeles Times summarizes it better than I ever could:

The conflict is rich and thorny, raising questions about art and morality, love and betrayal, sacrifice and opportunism and the chance moments that can define a life. The novel wrestles with the nature of art but moves with the speed of a page-turner.


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