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The Lightness

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A stylish, stunningly precise, and suspenseful meditation on adolescent desire, female friendship, and the female body that shimmers with rage, wit, and fierce longing—an audacious, darkly observant, and mordantly funny literary debut for fans of Emma Cline, Ottessa Moshfegh, and Jenny Offill.

One year ago, the person Olivia adores most in the world, her father, left home for a meditation retreat in the mountains and never returned. Yearning to make sense of his shocking departure and to escape her overbearing mother—a woman as grounded as her father is mercurial—Olivia runs away from home and retraces his path to a place known as the Levitation Center.

Once there, she enrolls in their summer program for troubled teens, which Olivia refers to as “Buddhist Boot Camp for Bad Girls”. Soon, she finds herself drawn into the company of a close-knit trio of girls determined to transcend their circumstances, by any means necessary. Led by the elusive and beautiful Serena, and her aloof, secretive acolytes, Janet and Laurel, the girls decide this is the summer they will finally achieve enlightenment—and learn to levitate, to defy the weight of their bodies, to experience ultimate lightness. 

But as desire and danger intertwine, and Olivia comes ever closer to discovering what a body—and a girl—is capable of, it becomes increasingly clear that this is an advanced and perilous practice, and there’s a chance not all of them will survive. Set over the course of one fateful summer that unfolds like a fever dream, The Lightness juxtaposes fairy tales with quantum physics, cognitive science with religious fervor, and the passions and obsessions of youth with all of these, to explore concepts as complex as faith and as simple as loving people—even though you don’t, and can’t, know them at all.

300 pages, Hardcover

First published June 11, 2020

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About the author

Emily Temple

1 book163 followers
Emily Temple was born in Syracuse, New York. She earned a BA from Middlebury College and an MFA in fiction from the University of Virginia, where she was the recipient of a Henfield Prize. Her short fiction has appeared in Colorado Review, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, Indiana Review, Fairy Tale Review, and other publications. She lives in Brooklyn, and is a senior editor at Literary Hub, where she makes lists for a living.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 567 reviews
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,296 reviews120k followers
June 24, 2021
An insincere and evil friend is more to be feared than a wild beast; a wild beast may wound your body, but an evil friend will wound your mind - Buddha
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.
Sixteen-year-old Olivia Ellis is on a mission. Her father vanished about a year ago. Not on the best of terms with her mother, she has left home and signed herself into the last place she had known him to be, hoping to dig up some clues to his current whereabouts. The Levitation Center (not its real name), which Olivia calls Buddhist Boot Camp for Bad Girls, (dare we suggest Dharma Drilling for the Damaged? No? Oh, ok) runs an annual summer program for teens. Learn some Japanese floral arranging, meditation techniques, archery, and gardening, among other things over the eight-week session. The campers are a motley crew, with a diversity of dark tales to tell.
They were slick-finish girls, cat-eye girls, hot-blood girls. They were girls who reveled. They were girls who liked boys and back seats, who slid things that weren’t theirs into tight pockets, who lit fires and did doughnuts in the high school parking lot. They were girls who left marks. They were girls who snuck. Girls who drank whiskey and worse by the waterfront…They were girls who ran away, who inked their own arms with needles and ballpoint pens, who got things pierced below the neck. (none of them named Heather, as far as I can recall)
And then there is Serena. She has been at the camp for some years, more of an institution than a regular. She does not sleep in dorms with the other girls, but lives in a fancy tent, among those available for the more fiscally able. She is one of those people who draws all eyes to her. Wicked smart, attractive, but not necessarily the prettiest, there is a presence to her that is compelling. She has two acolytes, Lauren and Janet. Olivia is drawn to her, becoming a part of their small circle. Serena sets the group a mission, by summer’s end, learn to levitate.

Emily Temple - image from her site - maybe searching for a cabin?

Serena and her crew go through a range of activities designed to elevate their consciousness, or something. The Feeling exercise they engage in is a fun bit of ASMR nerve stimulation. I get all tingly just thinking about it. They try to ease the heavy lifting with a bit of weight reduction, in a nettlesome way. And see what they might do to seduce the studly 23 yo gardener, who is reputed to know things, into giving them the lowdown on how to elevate their game.
Ambition is like love, impatient both of delays and rivals- Buddha
There is a fairy tale aspect to The Lightness, from using Once upon a time to having to go through the woods to learn truths. From there being the equivalent of a huntsman’s cabin in those woods, to a magical meeting place. From a local legend about a weeping willow carving lines in a cliff-face with its tears to Laurel’s idyllic vision of what American teenage life looks like. Rumors abound about Serena being maybe a witch or a werewolf or engaging in bizarre, dire activities involving blood.
…she seemed to have sprung from the ground, as much a part of the landscape as the rock beneath her thighs, as unconcerned and constant as the punishing heat itself.
And the girls engage in plenty of magical thinking to fill this motif out even more.

My disappointments in the book are slight. Olivia is pretty well organized to have gotten herself into the Center, yet does remarkably little to actually dig into dad’s records there. It seemed to me that settling, for the most part, on connecting with daddy dearest by learning what he might have learned seemed inconsistent. But, then, teenager. This is, after all, a coming of age novel, so inconsistency is a part of the landscape. A big piece of Olivia’s growth is experiencing a range of desires, and sustaining an inner dialogue about them. She wants what she wants, but struggles with what is right, although she is well aware that she is corruptible. She is far from alone in facing such challenges. And they are not all sexual in nature. Ambition looms large. What is she willing to do, to herself or others, in order to realize her desires? What are her limits, our limits, physically and morally?

There is a thriller/suspense core that Temple manages to keep aloft throughout. We know from the prologue that something terrible has happened. The story is told from adult Olivia’s perspective, so we know she gets through it all, physically, anyway. But she keeps reminding us, in case we forgot, that something awful happened that summer and we should keep wondering what it is, how it will happen, and who will not make it through. This worked well enough, I suppose, in sustaining, even ramping up tension, but I sometimes felt like I was in a classroom in which the teacher clapped his/her hands very loudly every so often to make sure everyone was paying attention, when I was one of the people who had been awake the whole time.
If I had known what was going to happen that summer, maybe I would have paid more attention to Harriet
Just look at what happened that summer. Look at me now.
I couldn’t have known that by the end of summer, one of us would be erased completely, blacked out, as though something had spilled over the photograph…
And so on
One feature that I found fun was Olivia’s word dives into the etymology of words, phrases, or passing thoughts, things like our need to destroy cuteness, the expression ”what’s the matter?”, the word thrall. I expect some readers might find these distracting. Not me. I quite enjoyed them, in fact, as they were not only informative but contributed to the surrounding subject matter.

Adolescence can be (was) a fraught time for many of us, male and female, featuring volcanic emotional angst even under normal conditions. Toss in the misery of your favorite parent disappearing, then falling in with a charismatic sort who is inspiring, compelling, and possibly dangerous, stir the cauldron with some specific sexual attractions, and a group of other teens coping with their own forms of madness, trying to overcome, or at least trying to gain some mastery over the weight of desire, the heavy load of becoming and maybe the clutches of gravity. And, in the telling, knowing that it will all go to hell in a terminal way. The Lightness is an engaging, coming-of-age suspense thriller that will make you smile, fret, wonder, and consider where limits lie. Not saying you will bang your head on the ceiling while reading this, but it may very well lift your literary spirits.
No one saves us but ourselves - Buddha

Review posted – June 12, 2020

Publication dates
----------June 16, 2020 - hardcover
----------June 22, 2021 - trade paperback

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram

Emily Temple is the managing editor at Literary Hub. The Lightness is her first novel.

Other Writing by Temple
-----Literary Hub - Emily Temple on Translating a Decade of Internet Writing into a Debut Novel
-----All her stories in The Atlantic
-----All her stories in Literary Hub
-----All her stories in Refinery 29
-----All her stories in Redef
-----Links to other writing in her site
-----A story by Temple - Plan of the Peak Cavern
-----A story by Temple - Better Homes

Items of Interest
-----Wiki on Dhammapada
-----The Dhammapada Full Text
-----Tummo Meditation
Profile Image for Jennifer Welsh.
228 reviews177 followers
December 25, 2020
Can we ever really know our parents, our friends? Can we ever really know what goes on in a relationship between two others? Where are the limitations of this human life, and what might be possible?

The Lightness asks these questions in the form of a coming-of-age story that takes place in a Buddhist summer camp for teens. Each character is specific and alluring, yet ultimately unknowable. The central action takes place among a group of girls, yet their family circumstances are present in all they do. The Buddhist mind faces and accepts what truly is, and responds to this truth without judgment. These girls are fueled by their neuroses. How can they possibly see what is?

Why did I love this book so much? The writing was excellent, yes. But I think it was the longing that really resonated with me: the longing for the unreachable, the impenetrable, the incomprehensible. Temple takes the bewildering teen years and adds layers of confusion by questioning the spiritual and mystical in the absence of adults. And through it all, you feel the longing for their guidance, love, and grounding. These girls are floating without an anchor.
Profile Image for Jill.
349 reviews338 followers
July 12, 2020
The Lightness is a reductive imitation of far better novels, puffed up on rambling purple prose and ideas the author considers profound but have crossed the mind of average people since time immemorial. Unfortunately, it's nothing more than a bag of cheap tricks: per usual, we have allusions to a terrible disaster occurring among a group of teenage girls; per usual, the disaster isn't that terrible or unexpected; per usual, the disaster occurs when the book is almost complete, revealing itself to be nothing more than a lure to keep you turning the pages despite how empty they seem to you.

Maybe I'm grumpy because I actually purchased this, my library still being shuttered because of the rona, but I just see novels like The Lightness more and more—melodramatic prose that obfuscates rather than clarifies; narratives that have been tread and retread more times than I can count; characters infused with coldness, an unknowability, that parry any of the reader's attempts to empathize. It amounts to books that read more like the author was invested in Writing A Novel than Telling A Story.
Shelved as 'dnf'
April 27, 2021
DNF 20%

Usually I would write a more detailed review that this but I don't want to do Emily Temple a disservice. I actually really like her articles/lists on LitHub ( I would invoke death of the author but alas not today).

A few words on why I do not plan on finishing The Lightness:
If you enjoyed so called campus novels such as Bunny or Catherine House or Good Girls Lie chances are you will like The Lightness (I for one hated those 'novels'). There is a 'clique', an unreliable narrator with a secret related to her past, a murder, foreshadowing....all the regular ingredients.
The style is intentionally recursive, the 'weirdness' seems calculated, there are plenty of swollen sentences....and I was hoping for something more subversive or nuanced.

My opinion is based only on what I read ( 20% of the actual novel) so take my review with a pinch of salt.
The Lightness was one of my most anticipated releases of 2020. Suffice to say, I am disappointed.

ps: I would not recommend this to lovers of academia or Donna Tartt's The Secret History.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,049 followers
July 4, 2020
If I'm being honest, and I think people want me to share my honest opinion - this novel tries so hard to be what it isn't that it fails to be what it could have been. The author mentions The Secret History in every interview I've seen, and blurbs and reviews have followed suit, but I don't find that here. The frequent heavy-handed foreshadowing almost made me quit multiple times. And we almost lose track of the deeper layers about parents and friendship and striving for the imaginary. The setting of the actual events in the novel is a titch too imaginary or unreal to fully resonate with the lives of the characters. It feels very much like an MFA novel, trying too hard to be profound when it was already there in the smaller moments.

I'm giving it three stars instead of slamming it because she clearly can write, and the weird setting (a mountainous camp where people come to learn how to levitate) and missing father and girl friendships are likely to appeal to some readers who won't be as turned off as I was by the Secret History aspirations or overuse of foreshadowing.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a copy through NetGalley; the book came out June 16.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews38 followers
April 5, 2020
“Once, not so long ago, a woman on the street told me my fortune. She said it was it was good news: I’d live a long life. I’d be happy. Bouncing babies, etc. I was passed thirty by then, and I’d had these things on my mind. But there was a catch (well, isn’t there always?): You’ll never get your good, long life if you keep asking the wrong questions, the woman said. I wanted to know: Which question is the right question? She passed my fingers between her palms, my palms between her fingers. She said, Not that one. But I was only teasing her. I knew which question to ask”.

I liked much of this book- but I seriously felt it needed editing. And I’m not even one of those -‘editing-police-readers’.

The following quote sold me instantly:
“The Lighthouse” could be the love child of Donna Tartt and Tana French. but it’s savage. glittering magic is all Emily Temple”.
FANTASTIC MARKETING.....just don’t know if it’s the truth!
Emily Temple ‘is’ a talented writer. This is a decent - often intriguing debut - but it didn’t hit the ball out of the park. But....there ‘were’ great moments.

We visit the Levitation Center...
There are ‘many’ sentences to pause and ponder throughout:
“Girls love to be unlike other girls, because of the lies we are told about what other girls are like”.

“Girls like us cannot be protected, we swore into one another’s palms and shoulder blades, girls like us cannot be saved. It’s the mistake everyone makes”.

“Even then she kept crying, harder and harder, hoping he would come to her, and after some time her body twisted and spread, her unmoving feet grew into the ground and her untouched, unloved skin crusted over and she became an enormous tree. You can see her from here, girls: The weeping willow that still hangs over the cliff’s edge”.

“At school, I told my classmates that I was a Buddhist— how my mother would’ve raged, had she known— but I couldn’t tell them exactly what that meant. But what do you actually do? They asked, obedient churchgoers all. We meditate, I said. So it’s just sitting around, they said. No, but I wasn’t sure. I couldn’t explain”.

“That’s Ava, she said”
“Avalokitesvara, she said”.
“Named after the bodhisattva, the personification of perfect compassion”.

It was summer. All the girls were sick with desire.....
either for friendships, acceptance, their parents, or Luke, the steamy gardener,
The girls wanted beliefs, transcendence.
It was a summer of religious inquiry... spiritual inquiry...wanting enlightenment, wanting release, wanting connection.

“Now I prefer not to want. It is much more dignified. I guess I turned out to be a Buddhist after all”

A little too long -
But... there is beauty on every page....
It’s the type of book that needs to be digested slowly....

“I’m in love with the world through the eyes of a girl”

3.5 - rating up
Thank you HarperCollins, Netgalley and Emily Temple
Profile Image for Dannii Elle.
2,034 reviews1,421 followers
November 29, 2020
Actual rating 4.5/5 stars.

Olivia has left her mother and the secrets they share at home. Following in her father's disappearing footsteps, she journeys to the Levitation Center, a meditation retreat that hosts troubled girls from across the globe every Summer. This was the last known location of her father and she hopes to find where he ventured from here.

Olivia is not one of the camp's 'bad girls', yet she might long to be. As she looks for what she knows she is missing, she finds she is lacking far more than she ever previously admitted to herself. And more than fathers can be found and gained in such a place as this, especially when the mysterious trio of girls who linger at the camp's peripheries shift to make room for one other.

I adore books that feature the intricacies and toxicity of certain close-knit teenage friendship groups, such as this one. The heightened emotions, the unreliability of character, and the ensuing drama all suck me in as assuredly as it does the new girl who enters their midst. There is something whimsical and innocent as well as feral and viscous about their thoughts and deeds, and I can not get enough of them!

Here, these wild girls become preoccupied with certain aspects of the Buddhist religion and spend their hours of moonlight pushing themselves, and each other, to the brink of human possibility. This is all in aid of the greatness they know lurks within, and a banishment of the average they deem lurks around them.

The dream-like quality infused in each lyrical line and the heady atmosphere that coated all action it depicted combined to make this an evocative and haunting piece. This was part Girls on Fire and part The Furies, with the essence of The Girls and the ambience of The Secret History sprinkled throughout.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to the author, Emily Temple, and the publisher, The Borough Press, for this opportunity.
Profile Image for Tinichix (nicole).
289 reviews47 followers
June 27, 2020
Well darn, this is one of those where I feel like I must have read a different book than everyone else in the reviews. This book is loved so far! Please don’t let my experience detour you. I am the outlier on this one.

Our protagonist heads off to The Levitation Center (“The only bit of land left where levitation is still possible”) which is a meditation center for troubled teens. Theoretically here a group of girls will be cured of all things wrong with them behavior wise. Olivia ends up looking for, and wanting acceptance from a certain group of girls at the center, which leads us to our story.

It is deep and contains references and discussions on Buddhism, meditation, life, relationships, friendships, different philosophies, devout beliefs, religions, teachings, and many mental health topics. These are all things that typically would have me glued to a story and not wanting to put it down. I enjoyed so many aspects of this book when it was discussing the above. But unfortunately for the number of parts I really enjoyed there were equal parts I really didn’t enjoy. I had almost no attachment at all to the main character and felt very little emotion wise during this book. For the most part I was not looking forward to it and just felt kind of disappointed in it. I was really looking forward to this one especially given the great reviews so far. Clearly I am the minority opinion so far on this one. I just didn’t happen to connect with it.

I did this as an audio book and the narrator was good, I don’t think my review would change much having read the physical book. I would absolutely read another book by this author as the writing was good and the parts I enjoyed I really enjoyed. There just didn’t happen to be enough of them for me.
Profile Image for Roman Clodia.
2,431 reviews2,512 followers
July 6, 2020
I like Temple's writing a lot: it's dynamic and fresh though she rather over does the intertexts and allusions which begin to feel a bit show-offy. However, despite the good stuff, this feels like a story I've read too many times before: the dangerous clique of adolescent girls is at risk of becoming a cliché of fiction, mingling issues of sex, power, innocence and death. Megan Abbot has exploited this material as has Emma Cline as well as numerous other books which are merging into one in my head. Temple's novel is now joining that morass. A more original storyline would have worked for me as the writing is stellar.
Profile Image for Lucy Dacus.
91 reviews18.7k followers
April 1, 2020
Read this in one sitting, could not put it down. Finishing the book felt like walking out of an engrossing movie, stunned. I wasn't sure if it was for me from the description or when I first started reading because there were indicators that it may read a bit like a young adult novel (the mention of "Buddhist Boot Camp For Bad Girls" is an example). If it seems the same way to you, keep reading, it will surprise you. It is clever, complex, dark, and deep. A story about belonging and what someone might do to find it, through family, friendship, and faith. Congrats to Emily Temple on a wonderful debut.
Profile Image for Mel.
696 reviews17 followers
June 2, 2020
**I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley.**

Reading this book I couldn't help but think of Family Guy's faux deep take down of "The Godfather," in part because there are a lot of faux deep moments here (so many digressions just to make a faintly clever point!) but also because, you know, this book does tend to insist upon itself. It very much wants to impress its self-awareness on the reader ("that old slog"; the way too many repetitions of "etc"), and to constantly editorialize every single thing that happens. Which, considering that this book is roughly 60% heavy-handed foreshadowing, means that the majority of this book is less story than think piece.

There is just so much telling here! So many winding paragraphs about the force of Serena's/Laurel's/Janet's beauty/personality...but very few of them actually doing anything or proving any of the attributes they're assigned. And in those few scenes it all felt, I'm sorry to say, very paint by the numbers to me: if you've read a ~bad girl group book, you probably already know everything that's going to happen here.

It's a shame because there absolutely were opportunities to make this book a stand out: a stronger focus on each girl's desire to levitate and less time spent on etymology would've gone a long way. And it's not like the writing itself wasn't good: even as annoyed as I was with the way the story was being told I felt that it ran smoothly and didn't have trouble getting through it on the sentence level. But the lack of a story being told made it difficult to appreciate anything the author was trying to do there.

Other readers may find something more to appreciate here; I have no doubt that readers looking for edgier female friendship books will enjoy this. But unfortunately that was not the case for me.
Profile Image for Tom.
73 reviews2 followers
June 20, 2020
First few sentences:

1. "Once, not so long ago, a woman on the street told me my fortune."

Yawn. A bit contrived.

2. "She said it was it was good news: I’d live a long life. I’d be happy."

Getting better and better. Not quite In Cold Blood, is it?

3 "Bouncing babies, etc."

Keep the cliches coming, Emily. What's next?

4. "I was passed thirty by then, and I’d had these things on my mind."

Oh yeah, this old one.

5. "But there was a catch (well, isn’t there always?):"

Is there? Okay whatever.

6. "You’ll never get your good, long life if you keep asking the wrong questions, the woman said."

This sentence needs a bit of TLC

7. "I wanted to know: Which question is the right question?"

Oh wow.

8."She passed my fingers between her palms, my palms between her fingers."

Come again? What's happening with all these hands?

9. "She said, Not that one."

Ha ha. Oh boy.

10. "But I was only teasing her. I knew which question to ask."

Of course she did. I can hardly wait.
Profile Image for Tammy.
512 reviews431 followers
June 4, 2020
This is quite smart. Review TK
Profile Image for Vanessa.
462 reviews290 followers
October 13, 2020
I’m still uncertain of my feelings for this book, I felt like it started off strong, I was immediately intrigued and thought the concept interesting. A girl heads to a meditation retreat high up in the mountains, to search for answers surrounding the disappearance of her father. She becomes mesmerised then befriends three girls attending the summer camp, they slowly form a strange bond, she eventually uncovers their plans for enlightenment lead by the mysterious leader of the group revealing her ultimate goal of levitation. Immediately you are aware that something occurs to one of the girls and the story unravels from there, everything is shrouded in this eerie mysterious quality from the beginning there is an ominous foreshadowing but it takes a long time for the ultimate reveal, for some reason the book felt disjointed at times as the book delves deeply into Buddhist philosophy, the book infuses many elements of this into the storytelling which was fine and interesting as I’m interested in the concept of Eastern philosophy but didn’t completely keep me immersed in the storyline I felt like it had the opposite effect I forgot I was meant to care about the big reveal and I wasn’t invested in any of them enough to care about any of them befalling a bad ending. The book is rich in texture, and although the book centres around a bunch of problematic teen girls it’s far from a “light” read, there’s much to take from and consider, a good book to stretch out and savour for those brief moments of inspiration, it’s kind of weird and kind of cool, it possibly tries too hard to be different and deep or whatever but for all the hype I felt at the beginning it didn’t deliver what I felt it initially promised.
April 18, 2020
This book will change all your preconceived notions about what good writing is. Like the cover promises, it will blow your freaking mind.

Sometimes when I read a book I think to myself "Wow, I can write a book like this, I can one day make this happen." I'm happy. I'm content. I feel like it's a real possibility.

Well, this book is a real dream smasher.

It says "Don't quit your day job, idiot."

I don't care how many monkeys and how many typewriters are in a room. There is no way something like this is written without some seriously elevated IQ levels.

And I was going into it early on thinking that it was a four star read, since it reminded me so much of "Bunny" by Mona Awad, which was also a brilliantly sardonic, engrossing read about some elitist girls struggling to attain their idealistic goals and hurting people in the process.

But it's so much more than that. It's an arrangement of words and sentences that are unfathomable. Sometimes I would stop and think "Wow, I need this sentence put into a poster for my wall so everyday I can look at it and feel some semblance of comfort that there are other people out there with this level of divine intellect taking care of the world, making it a better place, and that I can sit here and watch my Netflix and just stay out of their way." I'm doing my part.

Oh, and I will also never eat chili again.
Profile Image for Geonn Cannon.
Author 104 books152 followers
June 26, 2020
Maybe I'm reading too many books. I don't know. But this one pretty quickly went downhill when I realized "Oh, another one of these..." Girl goes to boarding school, gets in with the Wrong Crowd, bad things happen. And you know bad things are going to happen because I think every chapter had the narrator say some variation of "If only I'd known how things would end, I wouldn't have..." or "In just a few short weeks I would look back on this and wonder..." There's foreshadowing and then there's beating a reader over the head with a dramatic moment that has lost all its power because you sprinkled pieces of it over 300 pages.

If I'd only known how mediocre this book was, I never would have started.
Profile Image for Brittany Cavallaro.
Author 21 books2,909 followers
February 27, 2020
Gorgeous, compelling, richly textured. Like reading Megan Abbott doing Renata Adler, only even more original and electric than that. I loved this book.
Profile Image for Niki.
746 reviews116 followers
March 6, 2023
Meh. It's one of the "POV character wants to join a clique who's trying to do something dangerous" ones a la Bunny or The Furies or A Lesson in Vengeance. I don't wanna say "A Secret History wannabe" for the 73582th time, but.... A Secret History wannabe. The only difference is that it's not set at a school, but a Buddhism summer camp, though all the story beats are the same. POV is kind of a loser, is invited into the clique for some reason, they're infatuated with the ringleader of the group in particular, there's secrets and secrecy about whatever it is they're doing, there's a climactic scene in some kind of remote area, usually a forest or a cliff. Aaaall copied from TSH.

My two criticisms for this book were
1. Thought it was, or wanted to be, a lot more profound than it actually was. There's so many passages that try so hard, so very very hard, to be deep and profound and make you go ".....Woah". Sadly, when you can tell that the author is trying, it loses the ~mesmerizing~ effect immediately. There's some brilliant stuff in the book, but a LOT of it falls flat on its face.
2. I fundamentally disagreed with and actively hated the HUGE emphasis put on Luke. Am I really supposed to care about the girls all being obsessed with a gross ephebophile? Because I wasn't. I wasn't the least bit interested and wanted him arrested and away from those girls, like, yesterday. And it's not like he's just a plot point that can be ignored, because he's mentioned every other page. It's aaall about the girls wanting to woo him, the girls obsessing over him, the girls nearly fighting over him- and not just the clique, the entire meditation center, ALL the girls in attendance giving Olivia dirty looks when she's assigned to help him in the garden.

Because of that second thing in particular, the book ended up being mid for me. It has some cool parts, especially anything to do with Buddhism, and some of the character dynamics BETWEEN THE GIRLS (Luke can fuck right off) were interesting, but it was mostly overshadowed by the annoying stuff.
Also, can't say I loved one of the author's writing quirks. "[tells a story, let's say about The Minotaur] And I was equally lost in the maze of my mind. Minotaur, etc". "But then, I was always too curious for my own good. Curiosity killed the cat etc". You get the picture. It popped up a lot.
Profile Image for Nadia.
172 reviews
January 17, 2020
The Lightness joins the ranks of recent novels that deal with the close bonds young girls form, and the uncanny which can accompany those relationships and the way they manifest. Temple creates an insulated little world from which to observe them, and though that observation is skewed by an unreliable narrator who knows she’s unreliable, watching them maneuver through their world and their friendships is still compelling. When Olivia addresses you as a reader it is disconcerting, which is what makes it so effective. The fact that both of Olivia parents are unsympathetic characters also adds to the tone the book is setting, set aside from the parental stand-ins who have significant roles, though less back story, making them much more satisfying.

The book did often have me opening up searches for various pieces of art, quotes, and historical figures, and those rabbit holes were pleasant journeys.

While I mostly enjoyed this book, I think I would have liked it more if it had been 100 pages shorter. Brevity might have made the frequent threats of “If we’d only known then what we know now” promising future revelations, more powerful, rather than “that old slog” (in the words of our narrator). What might have been profound begins to sound desperate. And the unreliable narrator bit is pushed a little too far in the conclusion. I understand she's inviting you to make your own assumptions, but too many options can be a hindrance, rather than a freedom.

Also: Queerbait.

I received an ARC of this title from NetGalley.
5 reviews4 followers
January 14, 2020
If there is any justice in the literary world, this spellbinding novel will be one of the most acclaimed debuts of 2020. Darkly stylish, full of verve, acerbic wit, and shimmering intelligence, Temple’s debut is a mesmeric and unflinching exploration of adolescent female friendship and awakened sexual desire, as well as a fiery meditation on the obliterative nature of unwavering faith. Perhaps most impressively for a debut (for any novel, in fact): every sentence sings. If Donna Tartt rewrote The Craft as a novel, it might look something like this fierce, extraordinary work.
Profile Image for talia ♡.
936 reviews191 followers
April 7, 2021
honestly, i was entirely underwhelmed by this book as i was reading it :( i really was looking for something...more, and i think i was waiting for it to make me feel like every reread of The Secret History does.

however, i will definitely be looking out for Emily Temple's future works because she can write!!
Profile Image for Cindy.
1,462 reviews21 followers
July 21, 2020
As I finished the last page and closed the book my first thought was “what the h__ did I just read!? This story is certainly interesting if not bizarre. It takes place in a Buddhist camp where bad girls go to meditate and learn good ways. Olivia is searching for her missing father and believes he was last seen at this camp. She becomes friends with a group of girls lead by the mysterious Serena. Serena believes in levitation and is determined to eventually be able to rise up in the air. Like I mentioned this book is very strange. The story has many back stories which gives the reader an insight to the personalities of the boot camp girls. Luke, the young gardener, plays an important part but that’s all I will say. This book is very difficult for me to rate so I’ll take the middle ground and go with a 3. I have questions about that ending.
Profile Image for Callum McLaughlin.
Author 4 books84 followers
June 16, 2020
Set largely across one balmy summer, The Lightness follows Olivia as she enrols herself in a program for troubled girls at a meditation retreat high in the mountains. With her father having attended the same retreat just before he disappeared, Olivia hopes understanding his Buddhist passions will help her feel closer to him – and perhaps even to figure out why he never returned home. Quickly befriending a small group of enigmatic outcasts, the girls become increasingly obsessed with proving true the rumour that it’s possible to levitate, taking you one step closer to true enlightenment.

This is one of those books that I don’t want to say much about, because despite a few quietly powerful revelations along the way, not a huge amount actually happens. Instead, the success of the novel is reliant on the brilliant execution of its atmosphere; one of disorientating adolescence and mounting, claustrophobic tension that swell towards an inevitable though no less thrilling climax.

The novel is told in first person, with an older Olivia recalling the summer in question. This is effective on a number of fronts, allowing for a more mature narrative voice, greater self-reflection, and an omniscience that permits the laying out of clues that lend the whole thing a sense of impending doom – keeping us hooked despite the relatively slow progression of events.

There are lots of fascinating themes at play, from the trappings of the female body, to the often fine line between love and rivalry in friendship. As secrets are revealed, the reasons why the girls may wish to escape the physical confines of their bodies become tragically apparent, with subtle plays for power revealing the hidden manipulations and selfish motivations that can drive us to betray our own.

Though the ending is a little heavy on exposition, The Lightness is a tense and hypnotic read throughout. At once melancholic and strangely hopeful, it explores the allure of faith, and the desperate measures some of us will take to find purpose and belonging.

Thank you to the publisher for a free advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Eliza.
221 reviews45 followers
December 1, 2020
oh i had SUCH a good time with this one

the monstrosity and savagery of teenage girlhood!!

this is a book that is very self-conscious of the homage it's paying to the secret history & i really enjoyed that. why pretend your book is inspired by something else? there's even a slight reference to bunny being found after the snow melted in the final few pages which made me smile.

i'd rec this to anyone looking for a bit of the TSH magic (weird cliques, isolated settings, annoying narrators) or anyone that enjoyed sweetbitter by stephanie danler (the hook of a personality, blind belief, conflict re male and female desires).

cw: suicide, self-harm, addiction, sexual abuse, child abuse, disordered eating.
Profile Image for Circe Link.
110 reviews69 followers
June 4, 2020
If you liked Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro then this is prolly for ya. But sadly, this just wasn't my cup of tea. The niblets on Buddhism and like philosophies were witty and well researched, and made me wish there was less story and more of those. Kudos to anyone who climbs the Everest of writing a book let alone getting it published, I am sure to be the odd one out in my opinion on this one!
Thanks Goodreads for the give away!
Profile Image for Doug.
156 reviews17 followers
July 6, 2020
As a big fan of Emily Temple’s content on Literary Hub (and of the site in general), I was excited for the release of her first novel. The Lightness does not disappoint, it is a largely successful debut. At times haunting and mysterious - others philosophical and tender - The Lightness is always intelligent. It also wears its largest inspiration on its sleeve, that being Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. Through her content on Lit Hub, Emily’s love for Tartt’s classic is no secret and it really shines through here. I was delighted to also detect traces of Mona Awad’s Bunny, (that may be totally subjective) one of my favorites from last year. In my opinion, Temple strikes a really nice balance between the dense introspectiveness of The Secret History and the batshit crazy supernatural darkness of Bunny. The result is much softer than either of those two, more subtle and breezy than either but still satisfyingly dark and introspective. I appreciated the tempo and pacing much more than Secret History; the nuance much more than Bunny. All things considered, I would absolutely recommend this to fans of either of those two novels and/or contemporary literature in general. Here’s to hoping Emily continues to produce novels, would love to see where she goes next.
Profile Image for a cloud in trousers.
158 reviews34 followers
August 18, 2020
"Beauty makes me hopeless. I don't care why anymore I just want to get away. When I look at the city of Paris I long to wrap my legs around it. When I watch you dancing there is a heartless immensity like a sailor in the dead-calm sea. Desires round as peaches bloom in me all night, I no longer gather what falls."

Anne Carson, "Short Talks"


Emily Temple managed to write a novel made up of short (a few paragraphs at the most) segments of plot interspersed with shorter segments of facts relevant to the story (or quotes, or etymology), and have me hooked from beginning to end. I intend to fully steal her writing style in this review, adding a few quotes from poems that explore the same themes that The Lightness does. Literally just because I can. Because I slept four hours tonight. Take your pick.


review (n.)
mid-15c., "an inspection of military forces," from Middle French reveue "a reviewing, review," noun use of fem. past participle of reveeir "to see again, go to see again."


The Lightness is a book about girls. Girls who are no peaches, girls with teeth like wolves, girls who go missing, girls who do not want to be found. Fragmented, reminiscent, it reminded me less of Donna Tartt's The Secret History and more of Maggie Nelson's Bluets, but in novel form. I do see the similarities to TSH, especially in the plot, but it borrowed much less from Tartt than most books that get labeled as "dark academia" do.

To me, it was reminiscent of many things I have read before, but not in the way I was expecting. It explored girlhood, religion, beauty, and desire in a way that was both intriguing and well-researched. As in, Emily Temple knows what she is talking about! While the prose was at times a bit much for me, the hinting at the dark ending too heavy, etc, I generally find the relaxed writing style worked well.


In a field
I am the absence
of field.
This is
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.

When I walk
I part the air
and always
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body's been.

We all have reasons
for moving.
I move
to keep things whole.

"Keeping Things Whole" by Mark Strand

From The Lightness: "I have never in my life come across a beautiful image without deciding to force myself into it. I can't help it—show me a pretty patch of flowers and I'll immediately sit down in its center, so all the stems break beneath me, so all the petals smear and fold, but at least for that moment I am part of it."


Ultimately, I liked this. I would recommend it if you like reading about girls and their desires. I would not recommend it if you easily find things cheesy or over-the-top. Going to try to catch a few more hours of sleep now. Maybe dream of black sand.
Profile Image for Paige Hettinger.
323 reviews75 followers
August 19, 2020
what a book....what a haunting and primal book. i'm teetering between a 4 and a 5 here, but i'm settling on a 5 for one reason alone: i think i will find myself drawn to this book, over and over again, for many years to come. i cannot imagine the things that i missed, or how much there would be left to re-discover, re-interpret, re-feel if i read it again.

temple has created such a beautiful, disquieting, honest and raw look at female desire. one of the best depictions of the female self-gaze i've seen in a novel. so many of the lines in this book blew me back, and even if i never felt a real sense of the characters, i ultimately liked that. they were their own mysteries. it took me some time, but it deserved my patience.

this book operated on so many levels. the prose was so smooth, so luscious, it was like butter, like water, so easy to read and get swept up by. it was a fairy-tale, it was a mystery, it was a character study, it was a reflection paper, it was a dictionary, it was all this and more. it is something for each reader to discover on their own.

i cannot wait to read whatever emily temple does next, and then read it again.
Profile Image for Ann-Marie "Cookie M.".
1,111 reviews121 followers
November 21, 2020
I don't like books with a lot of foreshadowing, and "The Lightness" is all about giving you hints of how it will end, and it is not well. That is not a spoiler. The author lets you know right from the start.
It is the story of some upper middle class girls who have been shunted off to a "meditation and wellness" center by their families for the summer to deal with their issues.
As their issues are mostly adolescent sexual daddy problems, and there is a single male narcissistic worker on site, you can guess what mayhem results.
It in handled with a gentle, intelligent exploratory hand by Emily Temple, and it is only her warnings about tragedy soon to befall the little grouping that kept me from rating this book any higher.

I received this book free from William Morrow Publishers in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Rachel.
Author 2 books421 followers
June 15, 2020
Gorgeous and wonderful. Temple captures the teenage moment perfectly, asking the big questions that still haunt me.
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