Recent high school graduate Aria Tang West was looking forward to spending one last summer with her two best friends before starting as an astronomy major at MIT in the fall. But that was before some topless photos, taken by a boy without Aria’s consent, made their way to social media. The slut shaming that followed resulted in the ruin of Aria’s reputation—and the retraction of invitations to her friends’ summer houses.
Instead, Aria makes her way from Massachusetts to Northern California, where she’ll spend a quiet summer with her beloved grandmother, Joan. A well-regarded artist, Joan enlists Aria to assist her in cataloging her late husband’s research files, some of which she hopes to incorporate into a sculpture.
Aria definitely doesn’t have sex or romance on her summer agenda, especially after what happened back home, but she nonetheless finds herself drawn to Steph, an aspiring musician who works as Joan’s gardener. Aria’s attraction to Steph, who is genderqueer, calls into question everything Aria thought she knew about herself, but Aria’s sexuality is just one aspect of her journey of self-discovery during this life-changing summer.
In an author’s note, Malinda Lo reveals that she’s been working on this bittersweet novel of love and loss for a decade. A Scatter of Light functions as a companion to Lo’s award-winning 2021 novel, Last Night at the Telegraph Club, and though fans will delight at cameos by a few of that novel’s characters, it’s absolutely not necessary to have read the earlier book to understand and appreciate this one.
However, A Scatter of Light is set in the summer of 2013 as the U.S. Supreme Court overturned California’s Proposition 8, an amendment to the state’s constitution that eliminated the right to same-sex marriage. It’s fascinating to compare this novel to the 1950s-set Last Night at the Telegraph Club, and to consider the vastly different experiences of falling in love as a young queer person at these two moments in history. Aria’s story is not just about discovering and embracing your sexuality. It’s also about what it means to be an artist, a friend, a daughter and a granddaughter, and about how identities of all kinds can converge and crystallize as part of the process of growing up.