TW for the book itself: suicide, abuse, sexual assault
The beginning I know for sure. Once upon a time, My father went to the Levitation Center. I also know the next part: and he never came back.
As a devout reader of Lit Hub, and a fan of Emily Temple’s writing from there, I knew I wanted to read her debut novel. The Lightness can be best described as a spiritual coming-of-age mystery.
16-year-old Olivia has escaped to the Levitation Center for the summer in search for her father, as well as a way out from her mother. The Center serves as a haven for troubled young teens to “find themselves” and that ever so craved “inner peace”. In search of some answers for her dad’s disappearance, Olivia becomes determined to dig around.
Not for the first time that summer, I felt a strange bruised tenderness, a nostalgia for the current moment.
During the eight week getaway, Olivia finds herself entangled with the “it” girls: Serena, Laurel, and Janet. Serena, the ring leader, becomes obsessed with the idea of levitation. They fold Olivia into their mix and spend much of the summer trying to achieve lightness. (Hence the title.)
The core element of the story is suspense. The story is told from adult Olivia’s perspective, and she interjects frequently to remind the reader that something terrible happened that summer and makes you wonder what it is, how it will happen, and who will not make it through.
Oh, but how could I believe in anything but this? It was right in front of me, and I could touch it.
The Lightness has been compared to The Secret History by Donna Tartt, frequently by Temple herself. I think that this book has elements of The Secret History, but this is its own story entirely.
I loved the aspect of Buddhism present throughout the story. I don’t know much about the religion, so it was great to have the author sprinkle in the history and significance pertaining to the plot. Temple clearly did her research.
Things I wish would’ve been different: More character description. Temple gives you enough to paint a picture, but the details are fuzzy. The lack of details are intentional at times, but I wish I would’ve had more background on some of the characters by the end. I also wish more time would have been spent exploring the Center itself. It’s the main setting of the story and I don’t really know anything about it. I feel like there were a few plot holes as well, such as how did these 16-year-olds roam around in the middle of the night doing whatever they wanted? Certain elements didn’t feel totally plausible. I digress.
I honestly was enamored by this book right up to the last sentence. I’m very much looking forward to more of Temple’s work.
At the moment of the truly unbearable, I once heard someone say, you can’t help but change form.