Malinda Lo ’96 worked on her latest novel for basically a decade.
In the acknowledgments of “A Scatter of Light,” Lo writes that the novel was conceptualized in 2012 and that she began writing it in 2013. In 2013, I was in sixth grade. This fact is not here to make anyone reading feel old — rather, I’m trying to illustrate just how long Lo spent on this book.
After reading it, though, I am quite certain that “A Scatter of Light” was just the right novel for this point in Lo’s career.
Poignant and reflective, taking place just when gay marriage was legalized in California, “A Scatter of Light” is told from the point of view of Aria Tang West, a biracial Chinese and white teen from — where else — Wellesley, Mass., who goes to live with her white grandmother in California over the summer after an incident at school that drives a wedge between her and her friends. There, she discovers the queer community for the first time thanks to her grandmother’s gardener, Steph.
This book is a continuation of Lo’s previous book, “Last Night at the Telegraph Club,” in spirit — it is also a queer coming-of-age novel set in the Bay Area — but also in that you’ll actually see what ended up happening to Lily and Kath decades after their book ended.
I’ve been sitting here for a while, trying to figure out how exactly to describe this book, and I’ve determined that there is no way of describing what it’s like to read it. You’ve just got to read it yourself.
This is the story of one girl’s very eventful summer. Aria discovers so much about herself through her relationships with Steph’s friend group and the experiences that they give her. As a group of queer people in their twenties, they take Aria under their wing, and she inevitably gets tangled up in their drama even though she knows she shouldn’t.
I am not an artist, but “A Scatter of Light” feels like a love letter to the art community. As much as Aria is a STEM person (she’s going to MIT in the fall!), her and her grandmother’s love of creating art and looking at other people’s art permeates the pages.
It takes talent to craft such a quiet but powerful story. Lo has made me feel all the emotions Aria feels through the course of the novel as she experiences so many different highs and lows. It’s weird; the book is actually pretty slow in pace and lingers on a lot of details I didn’t expect. But I think that makes it all the better.
One last thing: “A Scatter of Light” has a lot of crossover appeal. That is to say, if you typically read a lot of adult novels, you’ll still want to pick this up, and if you read lots of YA, this might be a gateway to adult fiction for you. So please pick it up. Seriously.
“A Scatter of Light” comes out on Oct. 4, 2022. I received an early copy from the publisher, Dutton (an imprint of Penguin Random House) in exchange for an honest review. I would also like to take this opportunity to publicize Lo’s book launch event at Porter Square Books’ Boston location on the release date! Please go!