Authentic and Heart-Wrenching

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I read "Last Night at the Telegraph Club" while the raffle for this novel was open, and that made me realize I absolutely had to try and win this book (and luckily for me, I was able to). I adored this book, it's definitely a new favorite, and I'm going to be recommending it to anyone who listens for a long time!

Malindo Lo has some of the most moving and intimate writing I have read in a long time, with deeply authentic and complicated characters. Aria is deeply relatable as a protagonist, with all of her desires and struggles just leaping off of the page so the reader can really experience them along with her. Lo perfectly captures the confusion, complications, and opportunity that comes with being a teenager/young adult and still figuring yourself out, where there's a constant tension between the plan you have and everything that might happen. I was constantly rooting for Aria and able to understand and see how she made the choices she made, good or bad. In addition, not just Aria but every character around her shines; there's a very clear sense that every person she interacts with has their own feelings and life outside of her, they all feel very real.

The romance in this book is, of course, deeply compelling. Lo writes about desire in such a way that it's intense and palpable. Aria and Steph had such immediate chemistry and it was really natural and believable, and I found myself both wanting them to kiss so badly but also feeling conflicted because of Steph's relationship with Lisa. Furthermore, it's always refreshing and healing to read about sapphic desire (I'm pretty sure Aria doesn't label herself so I'm going with that) that's neither fetishized or downplayed, but it was especially powerful to see lesbian masculinity desired! I'm a little biased because I'm a gender-nonconforming, nonbinary lesbian, and generally masculine women/butch lesbians/etc. are still constantly demonized and talked down upon, even in lgbt+ spaces. So seeing this type of masculinity not just treated with respect but portrayed as desirable is always so healing to me! I also adored that Steph expressed some variety of not being a lady, even if she doesn't seem to have everything figured out just yet and isn't out, that really meant a lot to me. I know I keep calling things about this book authentic, but in my defense, it's because Lo truly captures a little bubble of real life and the complexity of relationships and identity and confusion and puts it into words.

I also really appreciated the depth of the exploration of both science and art within A Scatter of Light. Not only do the variety of passions from the characters' feel genuine and add depth to them, but I thought Lo worked Aria's learning about astronomy and progress in painting into the overall narrative and characters SO well. Not only do they help connect her to her grandparents, both alive and dead, but the way these topics reflect and are shaped by the personal journey Aria is going through just fits so perfectly. It feels balanced and not too obvious, but really captures the changing lens through which she looks at the world.

My final notes are that I also really enjoyed the family connections here--Joan was an incredible character and such a good guiding force for Aria :''^) and no one is writing complex, tense, and painful mother-daughter interactions like Malinda Lo, no one is doing it the same--and also that the descriptions of food in this book (and in Last Night at the Telegraph Club) always made me hungry. I can't even eat meat but I want to go to an In-N-Out burger now. Another incredible and moving work by Malinda Lo! I was deeply touched by this book.