Review: A Scatter Of Light by Malinda Lo

Published by Hodder & Stoughton

MALINDA Lo is best known for her earlier queer coming-of-age novel, Last Night At The Telegraph Club.

The intentionally slow and purposeful romance showed the story of Lily Hu exploring sexual identity as a Chinese-American against the backdrop of 1950s Chicago, adding fascinating cultural and political dimensions to a novel that felt deeply personal.

I was excited to see Lo’s new work and luckily my expectations were exceeded.

A Scatter Of Light takes place in California again, but this time in 2013, nearly 60 years later, and starts making connections and references to Lily that original readers will love to pick up.

The connections between the stories highlight the similarities and differences between the lives of two Chinese-American girls who begin to understand each other in the same area with time distance and changes in world attitudes.

While more of a companion than a sequel and each a separate story, the two seem to fit right in.

Heading into the summer of 2013, 18-year-old Aria Tang West has all her plans in place and is looking forward to some fun and relaxation before college.

However, after an incident involving compromising photos of her online posting by a party boy and a whirlwind scandal shaming a slut, she finds herself uninvited from glamorous vacations with her friends’ parents.

Now exiled to her widowed artist grandmother Joan West’s home in the Bay Area, Aria must make another plan.

Meeting Steph, her grandmother’s young gardener, a feeling ignites in Aria that she cannot yet contain or understand with the only option that seems to be to follow him wherever he leads.

Spending time with Steph’s friends complicates the perfect life she thought she had before the accident that brought her here. She is no longer the smart, beautiful and popular girl she was in high school.

When confronted with queer people, a few vital years older than her who have experience in love and creating art she’s never known, Aria must begin to unravel what this new yearning she feels means for Steph and this world in the as a whole.

Reminiscent of Last Night At The Telegraph Club, major cultural moments of the era are written in history as they affect the characters, most notably in this case, the legalization of gay marriage in the state of California.

Although not set in 1955, the choice not to set the story entirely in the present day contributes to the feeling that the rest of the structure helps to convey.

A Scatter Of Light is a book that feels like summer. It’s long and hazy with moments of sharp clarity piercing through the constant sense of pain and longing that define the mood of much of the story. Capture a variety of simple yet vital moments like noticing Steph’s eye color in front of burgers. This is a book that feels youthful, like a Malinda Lo novel but equally a story in its own right.

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