A Lighter Sense of Self

Emily Temple’s first novel offers a unique and absorbing blend of philosophy and page-turning narrative.


photo by Julia Poppa

Emily Temple’s debut novel delves into philosophy and spirituality without sacrificing plot and character.

I’ve never really paid much attention to authors. In my mind, if the book is good, who cares who wrote it? Most of the time, the names of writers whose books I’ve read add to a tangled ball of surnames in my head. But one that stands out, shines even, among the others is Emily Temple.

Her debut novel, The Lightness, is the perfect concoction of philosophy, suspense, beautiful words, and the ever-so-relatable concept of growing up.

The Lightness breaks the mold that so many young adult coming-of-age books follow. Without spoiling the plot, I can tell you this: there is no love story, there is no flawless, heroic man who swoops in to save the day, and it does not have a fairy tale ending.

The story follows 16-year-old Olivia, told by her middle-aged self, as she sets out to find her father, a deeply spiritual man whom she has not seen since he disappeared for a meditation retreat in the mountains and never returned home.

The retreat is called the Levitation Center, a place where the sky is so close to the earth that anything feels possible, a place where monks and nuns and anyone else who feels a spiritual calling come and go freely. It also happens to be, in Olivia’s own words, “a Buddhist boot camp for bad girls.”

It’s there that Olivia meets three mysterious girls, and together the four of them set out to change their lives for the better.

It is the kind of book that anyone can see themselves in.

But the story is hardly a predictable narrative of an errant teen who finds herself.  The plot is constantly evolving, with past and present interweaving to provide glimpses into the future.

The story is beautiful in and of itself, but the subtle ways Temple has worked beauty into even the most mundane of thoughts is especialy inspiring. There are sentences— paragraphs, even— that demand to be read over and over again. Not because they are difficult to understand, but because they are so profound that you are forced to reimagine your world through a lens you didn’t know existed.

There is a humility to Temple’s writing style that absorbs the reader. It makes teenage readers feel seen and testifies unapologetically to the intricacies of our lives. It is the kind of book that anyone can see themselves in.

What’s more, it’s filled with themes of Buddhism, both in practice and as a philosophy, a greater spiritual history of the world, and pure scientific fact. I couldn’t help but admire not only the book, but the world as a whole, after reading it.

The Lightness is a must-read for teenagers, philosophers, the hurting and the healed, and anyone who has lived the human experience.