A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Readers who are artists or photographers are given a window into an artist's mind as Joan talks to Aria about creating her paintings and photographs. Aspiring astronomers can look over Aria's shoulder as she explores her astronomy professor grandfather's files (he was researching protostars) and watches videos of his lectures.
It's important to discover who you really are, even if that journey is difficult and sometimes heartbreaking.
Positive Role Models
Aria, Steph, and Mel all have dreams they're pursing. While Aria comes from a world where young people are expected to dream big dreams (like studying astronomy at MIT), Steph and Mel don't have that advantage. But they do have perseverance. Steph was kicked out of her home when she was 17 and works at a garden center while trying to start a career as a singer and songwriter. Mel's working long hours as a prep cook at a Mexican-Indian fusion restaurant and has plans to one day open her own restaurant.
Aria's mother is from China. Steph, Lisa, and Roxy are queer. And Mel is Latina and queer. Tasha is Black. The story is set in 2013, just as California legalized gay marriage, and that decision is celebrated by couples at the Dyke March and Pink Parade.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Aria describes her brief sexual encounters with boys in an emotionless matter-of-fact way. Writing that there was "something transactional about it." When she writes about having sex with Steph, it's explicit and filled with emotion. "Her tongue, climbing the swollen ridge of nerves at the cleft of my body. Her fingers inside me, that exquisite friction .... She made me feel transcendent, exceptional." After Aria's topless photos are posted online she feels that it made the boy who took the pictures "someone the other guys looked up to, but the fact that I had taken my shirt off made me a slut."
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Characters routinely use strong language ("f--k," "a--hole," "s--t.")
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Products & Purchases
Both Aria and Steph are fans of the poet Adrienne Rich. There are lots and lots of consumer references to products (Pelligrino, Cosmo, Prius), musicians (Rhianna and Kelly Clarkson), movies and TV shows (The L Word and Contact) and classic sci-fi movies (Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Forbidden Planet).
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Teen characters get drunk at a high school party, and Aria occasionally drinks while in San Francisco. Adults smoke cigarettes, drink, and pass around pot brownies. The "funk of weed" can be smelled floating in the air at the Dyke March.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that A Scatter of Light is a companion to Malinda Lo's 2021 National Book Award winner Last Night at the Telegraph Club. Eighteen-year-old MIT-bound Aria Tang West had planned to spend the summer on Martha's Vineyard with her best friends. Then a boy posts topless photos of her online, she's slut-shamed at school, and her parents decide it's best if she spends the summer with her grandmother in San Francisco. Having always thought she was attracted to boys, Aria is surprised at the feelings she's developing for Steph Nichols, her grandmother's 20-something gardener. When Aria embarks on her first lesbian affair with Steph, they both know it could lead to heartbreak. Characters routinely use profanity such as "f--k," "a--hole," and "s--t." Teens drink and get drunk at a high school party and adults drink, smoke cigarettes, and pass around pot brownies. While the sex between Aria and Steph is sometimes graphic ("her hand sliding between my legs, her fingers stroking me"), it's always sensitively written and never sensationalized. The novel has a diverse group of primary characters who are half-Chinese, queer, Latina and queer, Black, and White.
Is It Any Good?
This sensitively written queer coming-of-age story explores broken family ties, friendship, heartbreak, and first love. Readers of Last Night at the Telegraph Club will be delighted to discover its two main characters reappear in A Scatter of Light. Lily Hu (who turns out to be related to Aria) and Kathy Miller are now married after being together for 53 years. Each has achieved their dreams, with Lily working on robotic spacecraft and Kathy training women hoping to become astronauts.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.