A Scatter Of Light by Malinda Lo

Published by Hodder & Stoughton

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

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

I was excited to see new work from Lo and happily my expectations were exceeded.

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

The links between the stories highlight the similarities and differences between the lives of two Chinese-American girls beginning to understand themselves in the same area with the distance of time and shifts in the attitudes of the world.

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

In the lead up to summer of 2013, 18-year-old Aria Tang West has all her plans laid out and is looking forward to fun and relaxation before college.

However, after an incident involving compromising pictures of her being posted online by a boy from a party and a whirlwind slut-shaming scandal, she finds herself uninvited from glamorous holidays with her friends’ parents.

Now exiled to the house of her widowed artist grandmother Joan West in the Bay Area, Aria has to make other plan.

Meeting her grandmother’s young gardener Steph, a feeling is sparked in Aria that she cannot yet contain or understand with the only option seeming to be to follow it wherever it leads.

Spending time with Steph’s friends complicates the perfect life she thought she had before the incident that led 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 making art she has never yet known, Aria must begin to unravel what this new longing she feels for Steph and this world as a whole means.

Reminiscent of Last Night At The Telegraph Club, the major cultural moments of the time are written into the story as how they impact the characters, particularly in this case, the legalisation of gay marriage in the state of California.

While not set as far off as 1955, the choice to not make the story take place entirely in the present day contributes to the feeling that the rest of the structure helps to carry.

A Scatter Of Light is a book that feels like summer. It is long and hazy with moments of sharp clarity that puncture the constant sense of aching and longing that define the feel of much of the story. It captures a series of simple but vital moments such as noticing Steph’s eye colour over burgers. This is a book that feels young, like a Malinda Lo novel but equally a story of its own.