Teenagers lives are complex whether they live in a suburban modern-day town or a dystopian future on another planet. Friendship, first love, betrayal, guilt are emotions that anyone, even if you’re no longer a teen, can relate to.
See All the Stars by Kit Frick and Sky Without Stars by Jessica Brody and Joanne Rendell seem to only have their titles in common at first glance.
See All the Stars is a thriller set in a modern high school with a back and forth time narrative that teases you the whole way until the shocking ending.
While Sky Without Stars is Les Mis in space with all the rebellion, heartache, and classist angst you might expect, but with robots and lasers. However, both books deal with the same brutal emotions and share some common elements in their narratives as well.
I hate love triangles. For both books, the romantic plot revolves around one. Luckily, neither relies on it for the sole plot.
In See All the Stars, the love triangle is not exactly what you might think. Actually, the entire plot is like that. Ellory is a highschooler and part of a foursome of friends with Bex, Jenni, and Ret. The story is told between alternating timelines entitled THEN and NOW. THEN tells the story of an Ellory that adores Ret and tolerates the other two girls who also revolve the charismatic teen. Ret tells them what to do, say, and often, think. Ellory basks in the glow of Ret’s attention, fun girls’ nights, school parties, and falling in love with Matthias, a sweet boy who cares for his little sister, but hangs with the wrong crowd and has no adults to guide him.
NOW shows us an Ellory trying to get through her senior year with no friends, no boyfriend, with family tip-toeing around her while being harassed at school. All because of an incident. Something happened between THEN and NOW that changed Ellory into a girl trying desperately to move on.
Ultimately, that is the main theme of this book. Closure. Ellory NOW meets up with people to apologize or say a final goodbye to, people that she smiled and laughed with during THEN. The ending is both exactly what you expect and completely a surprise. Frick skillfully pulls the reader along, keeping you guessing until the very end. To be honest, my jaw actually dropped and I had to reread a sentence three times thinking, “Wait…what?!”
But this book is more than a thriller. I found myself really angry at the three main characters of the book: Ellory, Ret, and Matthias and thinking about them for days afterward. Ret and Matthias have such a skewed moral compass, while Ellory has no core sense of self, despite a loving home life.
It would have been easier if they had been two-dimensional, easy to forget, but like Ellory in the story, it can be hard to let go when there are no good answers, no all bad or all good. They are all so flawed I wanted to hate them for what they do, what I knew was going to happen, but they are all so real that I couldn’t. People are complicated, horrible, and loving at the same time. See All the Stars shows that sometimes nothing makes sense and you still have to move on.
Female Speaking Characters: 70% (11/16)
Ethnic Diversity: A couple of side characters are noted to be of color (“black”, part Asian)
Sexual Diversity: Nothing noted.
The love triangle in this one is well-known to the story of Les Miserables, a French historical novel by Victor Hugo published in 1862. Like most English speakers, I only know Les Mis, the musical based on the novel. The story takes place in the early 1800s, during a French rebellion. France is a strict classist society where the peasants lead miserable (yup) lives while the rich are secluded in palaces. The English version of the novel is 1,500 pages. Sky Without Stars, at 579 pages for the first of a trilogy, might top it.
Sky Without Stars takes place on another planet, actually several planets, that humanity fled to after destroying our Earth home. The story focuses on one planet, Laterre, settled by a French family. Five hundred years later, it has devolved into a classist society where the elite live lavishly in a dome that projects sunlight while the poor barely survive in an endlessly cloudy and rainy sky. The poor are continually told “honest work for an honest chance”, but most die of malnutrition or are taken away to the prison on the moon for any minor offense. There had been a squashed rebellion a generation ago, and there are rumors that it never truly died, but was biding its time for the right moment, and that moment might be at hand.
Although the original version focuses on an escaped convict (for stealing bread for his family) who is shown mercy and establishes himself as a respected leader of society (hiding his true past), Sky Without Stars focuses on the next generation: his adopted daughter Alouette, a young officer Marcellus, and a street urchin, Chatine.
The book splits its story into three interwoven narratives of the main characters, telling their stories from the first person. The escaped convict is still there, though named Hugo (interesting choice.) There are some amusing homages to the original tale and musical, from the candlesticks (though these have a sci-fi twist), to saying Chatine’s mother was the “master of the house” and I could almost hear Chantine singing, “On My Own” in one scene. I’m sure I missed plenty, though I did like the reference to The Book Thief.
I was not hopeful going into this story, steeling my heart from getting invested in a particular character whose plotline can’t go well if the authors follow the original plot. The teens have fully fleshed out characters, especially Alouette, who is just an object in the original story. All of them are endearingly naive, even Chatine, who tries so hard not to care about anyone but herself. Although the details are different, the plot is still going in the same direction. Since this is only the first of a trilogy, it’s hard to say exactly where the authors will take this.
There were a few inconsistencies that bothered me. For example, Chatine’s character is so leery of everyone that I had a hard time believing she would fall for a particular lie that completely shaped her character early on. Also, there was a scene where Marcellus is muddied up and then beaten by six men, and then the next scene he has nary a scrape or bruised rib, and no one comments on his should-have-been messy appearance. I would have liked there to be gender-flipping of recognizable characters. But despite those few quibbles, the world building is stellar.
Instead of prostitutes, young girls sell themselves to “blood bordels”, where their blood is collected and then made into expensive treatments for the elite to stay young. The police chief Limier as a cyborg made him unnerving. The underground librarians and their secret mission are a particularly good detail, considering they are the only example of positive female relationships (all the other mothers are dead, missing, neglectful or abusive.) The three teens come from very different pasts, but their lives intersect as they each go beyond the walls set up by their parents and society, discover what they have been told is not necessarily so, and have to decide for themselves what the truth is, and more importantly what to do with that truth.
Sky Without Stars is a must-read for fans of Les Mis, and anyone who enjoys teen drama in space.
Female speaking characters: almost 50% (17/36)
Ethnic Diversity: none noted
Sexual Diversity: none noted
GeekMom received a copy of both books for review purposes.