"A Scatter of Light" | Reviewed by Carson Mowery
Malinda Lo’s 2021 novel “Last Night at the Telegraph Club” swept the nation as one of the most beloved and important books of the year, winning the National Book Award and the Stonewall Book Award, among many other accolades.
Her just-released novel, “A Scatter of Light” is set 60 years after the end of her previous book, a companion novel featuring a new cast of beautifully constructed characters.
This novel follows Aria West, a Chinese American teenager, who finds herself with quickly altered summer plans that include living in California with her grandmother, a well-known artist, before she heads to MIT in the fall. Shortly after moving in and accepting her new setting for the summer, Aria meets Steph, her grandmother’s gardener, and she is enamored. Steph is gender nonconforming, exceptionally kind, and unlike anyone Aria has ever known.
Aria and Steph settle into a friendship consisting of movie nights, music festivals, and Pride marches, which are fairly new to Aria, who believes she has been straight most of her life despite always wondering whether that was the whole truth.
This time of discovery occurs against the backdrop of the Supreme Court's ruling to overturn Prop 8 (a ban on same sex marriages) in California, giving our protagonist and her friends the chance to safely and openly learn more about evolving into the most authentic versions of themselves as gay marriages were slowly being permitted.
After becoming more comfortable in her new friend group, and after one of her high school friends comes out to her as gay, Aria comes to terms with two new truths she holds deeply: she is bisexual, and she loves Steph. Their whirlwind romance is sweet, and unsteady, and captivating, and readers will enjoy being transported back to remembering their first loves and caring for someone in a way they never thought possible.
In the interludes of Aria and Steph’s summer love, Aria reckons with identity and learning more about her family history, processes grief, and continues to love and create art when such joy feels like the most abstract concept one can conjure.
As Malinda Lo delightfully interweaves allusions to her previous novel, she calls us to consider the awe and beauty in the fact that we are all blips in the grand scheme of existence, mere scatters of light in a larger landscape that we will never fully comprehend. While doing this, however, Lo grounds readers by bringing us into the joy of loving ourselves and others, creating with passion, and appreciating the life we are given by being brave enough to leave a trace of ourselves behind.
The publisher of “A Scatter of Light” recommends this novel for young adults ages 14 and older.