It’s a teen thriller in the vein of the ’90s horror movie The Craft, only instead of a Los Angeles high school this one is set at what Olivia calls “Buddhist Boot Camp for Bad Girls.” But it’s also a beautiful meditation on meditation, with readings of sacred texts and light Buddhist history ... This book — frequently hilarious, and thoughtful throughout — also transcends expectations at its end.
It’s a fractured, fascinating look at a teenage girl’s pursuit of understanding ... Structurally daring and prosaically deft, the narrative moves back and forth across time (though all is past from the perspective of our frank and forthright narrator), capturing the fluidity and futility of memory ... It’s also a story of the complex sociological minefield that is friendship between teenaged girls ... The Lightness walks an interesting tightrope, a coming-of-age story that deftly introduces elements of literary thriller into the mix. There’s a delicacy to the manner in which things unfurl that is really quite striking ... A clear point of comparison that has been made by a number of reviewers is Donna Tartt’s The Secret History—and it is an undeniably apt one. The truth is that this sort of dessert-first storytelling is a dangerous game, one that can undermine a narrative’s impact significantly. It’s a bold choice that Temple executes well enough that even with an extant sense of the ending, she still finds ways to surprise us.
Temple is an excellent writer ... Clearly an omnivorous reader and researcher, Temple has stitched together a textured patchwork of spiritual myths, enlightenment allegories, anecdotes of saints and levitation theories. She swings between Olivia’s arc and these magpie nests of ideas like an acrobat leaping from one trapeze to another. Sometimes these digressions foreshadow; other times they function as parables, pointing out religion’s absurdity and false promises. Often, I found myself more interested in these stories than the main narrative, seeing them through Temple’s lens as interpreted by a woman wounded by the futility of seeking ... For a certain kind of reader (raised perhaps on Tartt, Temple’s more plot-forward forebear), this structural experiment may prove tedious, backgrounding what purports to be a thrilling narrative in favor of a rich meditation on the nature of desire and belonging, on what is lost while chasing illusions and on the scars of growing up a girl. To paraphrase another cliché of the seeker, the journey is far more interesting than the destination ... Despite the improbability of Olivia’s circumstances, the story of four wayward girls attempting magic is a diverting one, especially when woven through with Temple’s sensually wrought landscapes and delicious impressions of adolescent hunger. At times, The Lightness is overwritten, concerned with the shape of itself in a way that derails the locomotion of the narrative (like the occasionally self-indulgent Tartt), but it’s also a promising quality in a debut novelist, possibly auguring great things to come.
... a darkly fascinating tale of female coming-of-age ... Temple proves herself to be virtuoso of dark, playful prose. Olivia's first-person narration teases and unwinds her tale, twisting it through claustrophobic sequences at the camp, memories of her abusive childhood and snippets gleaned from spiritual, scientific and literary sources alike. While Olivia's voice controls the novel's sense of gravity, the slick but brittle, hard-shelled but tender-bellied girls around her are just as compelling ... Dressed in heavy robes and tinged with blood, Temple's novel is ultimately a portrait of young women, vulnerable and powerful, who believe the world has more to offer them.
Cool, dark, and pretty as a clear night sky, Lightness delivers a coming-of-age suspense tale that starts out familiar—ominous warnings, unreliable narration—before forging its own path ... Attempts at flourish (dictionary definitions, theological musings) break the prose’s flow, but they’re also playful—further proof that Temple is just getting started.
100 percent bingeable—I read carefully enough to soak it all in, but fast, because it’s so hard to put down ... addresses power dynamics, female friendships, and bodies in a coming-of-age tale that is very relevant to real-life conversations happening in troubled sanghas today.
I rode along happily for much of Temple’s book ... Temple makes this melodramatic trope work thanks to her unusual, clipped and very funny style ... She’s a gifted writer and storyteller with an unwavering command of her plot ... The plot she’s chosen remains melodramatic, however ... Olivia is narrating this tale with years of hindsight and more than a little ruefulness ... After going over the events of that summer again and again, she has learned, supposedly the hard way, that believing too much in any one thing can break your heart. That lesson doesn’t amount to much for the reader, though, despite all the promise of Temple’s immense talent.
It is a premise that requires a mighty belief in suspension in order to suspend disbelief ... There is even a cheeky suggestion in the book’s final pages that Temple’s floating fairytale exists in a similar universe to Tartt’s New England Greek tragedy. But while The Secret History was a novel of soul-curdling aftermaths, bisected by its murder, The Lightness is simply a novel of a looming bad thing ... Where The Lightness does carry weight is in its scenes away from the mountain and its manic pixie dream friends ... it is so dispiriting that her novel opts instead for a twee permutation of a story we have seen so many times before.
The Lightness reminded me, in the days I spent with it, that I love to read ... Olivia sees her role as that of an observer, an analyst’s attempt to understand something from her youth that is impossible to understand. This tonal balance is vital to the book’s success ... What keeps the book from falling back into archetype is Temple’s ability to acknowledge each girl’s respective agenda, even if the narrator is not aware ... Temple avoids vacant tropes because she allows desire to be the driving force of the narrative. The book, and the people within it, cannot be anything other than alive, because only things that are alive can want this much ... many of the book’s major pleasures emerge from the individual lines, emphasizing rhythmic metaphor and delicious image. Temple writes paragraphs like a poet, but plots pages with all the momentum necessary to sustain a longer narrative.
It is with the fullness of Olivia’s life that the novel becomes fullest. Temple backdrops the almost fantastical set with the even more exhilarating minutiae of the human experience ... compact and stylish prose that is quick and concentrated. It moves between short paragraph vignettes to fleshy scenes, the result a thrilling feeling of uneasiness. Her section breaks are so frequent that the novel at times reads as if composed of short flash fiction, and the recurrence of characters and locations then establishes a stop-motion strobe light of the summer ... something can only be light by comparison, and so our touchstone is the body. The body in The Lightness is not just our physicality; instead, it is the multiplicity of our senses combined. Every theme is approached this way, the novel less interested in a singular point of view than the palimpsest that is our lives ... But this isn’t a novel about witchcraft or physics; rather, it’s a novel in which possibility is spellbinding. Temple establishes an uncanniness from the start to suggest the capacity for fantasy. Loaded with facts and memories and retreat and a disappeared father, The Lightness is at times otherworldly. At others, it reminds us that otherworldliness is just our living. The distance we have from the Levitation Center is the very tool through which Temple incites our conviction that a girl can rise.
This mystery --- coupled with the dynamic among the women at the Center, and their complicated desire for enlightenment and purpose, along with Olivia’s anecdotes about history and other tales --- propels us forward ... This is a book about seduction and magic tricks, charlatans, being young, wanting to be pretty, judging others’ appearances and yearning to belong, even if it puts you in peril. It’s about abandonment and a need to fit in because of the void inside you, yet ignoring all the signs that those who claim to want to help you might not have the best intentions. The moral of the story is to watch what you worship, as what you seek to enlighten yourself might very well be what tricks you in the end.
Between lengthy theological diversions, the main story unfolds ... It’s like a twisted Malory Towers or maybe a cosmic version of Heathers: teenage violence, sex and envy mixed up with Eastern theology. I enjoyed it, although the ending was a bit of a let-down.
Temple cleaves open the darker underbelly of girlhood, from the allure of all-absorbing female friendships to the misinterpretation of adult intentions, examining the way storytelling and memory can collide to disastrous effect ... Temple herself refuses a readily available narrative in favor of something more twisted and confused. In The Lightness, it is in casting off fragility, ephemerality, and adult male fantasy that both the author and her protagonist find truth.
Their nightly explorations are complicated by the involvement of the camp’s young gardener, Luke, a would-be mentor whose interactions with the girls, both sexual and otherwise, heighten the tension that skillfully builds over the course of the story ... Temple liberally seasons her story with informative bits of Buddhist philosophy, Greek mythology and descriptions of how, throughout history, humans have attempted to satisfy the yearning to defy gravity. For both its mystery and its psychological insight, The Lightness will appeal to readers who enjoyed works like Donna Tartt’s The Secret History ... admirable.
Temple weaves Buddhist practice, rumor, philosophy, and teenage sexual longing into a story that is both deep and compelling. Her characters are complicated and conflicted, immersed in the throes of teenage angst and hormones. Any reader of general fiction would enjoy.
Temple keeps readers on a string with murky suspense, foreshadowed danger, and a spine-tingling sense of seclusion. Readers will also appreciate themes of idolatry, Buddhist spirituality, and teenage girlhood in this stylish debut.
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 ... 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.
...[an] engrossing debut, by turns smart thriller and nuanced coming-of-age story ... While the frequent asides on fairy tales, etymology, and various intellectual concepts can feel distracting and distancing, the lush, intelligent prose perfectly captures the narrator’s adolescent yearning. Temple’s exploration of the power young women have over each other will appeal to fans of Susan Choi and Emma Cline.