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THE LIGHTNESS by Emily Temple Kirkus Star


by Emily Temple

Pub Date: June 16th, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-06-290532-1
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Four teenage girls attempt to unlock the secrets of levitation in this unsettling debut from the senior editor of Literary Hub.

Olivia's father left to attend a Buddhist retreat at the Levitation Center but never returned home. When Olivia flees her abusive mother in order to find out what happened to him, she spends the summer attending the center's retreat for teen girls. "They were slick-finish girls, cat-eye girls, hot blood girls," Olivia recalls. "They were girls who reveled. They were girls who liked boys and back seats, who slid things that weren't theirs into their tight pockets." But the crackling energy of three girls in particular catches Olivia's eye: commanding Serena, stoic Janet, and provocative Laurel. Under the direction of Serena, the four young women convince Luke, the center's gardener and a universal object of teenage lust, to teach them the secrets of levitation. In preparation, the girls fast on nettle tea, play dangerous fainting games, and attempt to seduce Luke. The summer wears on, and Serena pushes them each to the brink. At last, Olivia must confront the possibility that Serena's quest for control over their bodies might put them all in danger—or is that what Olivia really wants? Temple's evocative exploration of teenage girlhood, shame, and longing illuminates the double-edged desire for power and belonging. Her sentences are complex and rich, although the ominous mood of the novel occasionally overpowers the emotional payoff of its reveals. "You might as well learn this now: even the tiniest bit of power turns me instantly immoral," Olivia laments early in the novel, though it's difficult to say how much power Olivia ever wields. Still, Temple's narrative strategies of deferral invite us into a complex, psychological study of a young woman haunted by her past—and her capacity to hunger for violence and self-destruction.

A dark, glittering fable about the terror of desire.