When I was poking around NetGalley, I was drawn to Starworld by Audrey Coulthurst and Paula Garner (in stores April 16) mostly because of the beautiful cover art. I know you’re not supposed to judge, as the saying goes, but as a person who has always been fascinated by space (I always wanted to be an astronaut, if it wasn’t for the claustrophobia, the poor eyesight, the lack of physical fitness, all the schooling…), I wanted to know what this world of stars was all about—especially since a lot of it was supposed to happen through text message, which is an interesting literary format that I’ve yet to see done well.
Sam Jones and Zoe Miller have one thing in common: they both want an escape from reality. Loner Sam flies under the radar at school and walks on eggshells at home to manage her mom’s obsessive-compulsive disorder, wondering how she can ever leave to pursue her dream of studying aerospace engineering. Popular, people-pleasing Zoe puts up walls so no one can see her true self: the girl who was abandoned as an infant, whose adoptive mother has cancer, and whose disabled brother is being sent away to live in a facility. When an unexpected encounter results in the girls’ exchanging phone numbers, they forge a connection through text messages that expands into a private universe they call Starworld. In Starworld, they find hilarious adventures, kindness and understanding, and the magic of being seen for who they really are. But when Sam’s feelings for Zoe turn into something more, will the universe they’ve built survive the inevitable explosion?
I wanted to like this more than I did—I was really rooting for it and hoped that my opinion would change in the end… but it didn’t.
I was really excited to see that the book was handling the treatment of anxiety and OCD, but man was I let down. Sam’s mom was clearly struggling with something, and Sam was not being sympathetic at all. I mean, I get it, if you have a single mom and you spend more time taking care of her than anything else, I can see you being annoyed (as a teenager), but as a really, really smart teenager, I don’t know how she couldn’t see that her mom would benefit from some counselling. She got there in the end, but it wasn’t really because of Sam. Sam’s character just seemed so immature and self-centered. (Never mind the fact that she’s supposed to have this best friend, Will, who gets her and doesn’t judge, and we only get one real scene with him, and it’s a good one. The book definitely needed more Will.)
That same comment can be said about Zoe. Her character also has to deal with some pretty serious stuff (a brother on the spectrum, being adopted, her mom having cancer), and though her life is pretty good, she just seemed to be focused on why her biological mom gave her away. And I mean, as a person who isn’t adopted, maybe that is a thing that people dwell on constantly, but the fact that she thought it was because she has a birthmark on her forehead? Really? Her obsession with needing to be perfect was just a little too out of control and, really, never really dealt with.
Now I get to actually talking about Starworld—the world that Sam and Zoe create to escape reality. I thought it was going to be way more “space” than it was, but it was really just a very underdeveloped fantasy land with a dragon named Humphrey. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m not really the demographic for this book, but the way it was written was not realistic and not very appealing. *wonders whether people agree with her or not* *waits with bated breath for a response*
My final point is going to be about the “love story,” because there definitely was one forming… though it was terribly one-sided. Sam was very clearly in love with Zoe, and she pretty much told Zoe many times in Starworld and with notes and messages, so when Sam kisses her, she really shouldn’t be surprised. The fact that that kiss destroyed their relationship didn’t sit well with me. It was handled immaturely by both characters—they really only needed to have one conversation and could have cleared the air. Though I understand they’re teenagers, and young love is really tricky.
Food for thought
I really just want to know what you thought about the Starworld “memespeak” (I don’t know what else to call it). I’m so curious to see whether it landed with other people. *waits for comments on the post*
“There is no star so bright, no sky so vast, no galaxy so beautiful, as the gift of love. Of being seen, and known, and loved, even when—especially when—all you see when you look in the mirror is imperfection.” —Audrey Coulthurst and Paula Garner, Starworld
Thank you to NetGalley and Candlewick Press for the advanced copy, and to Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash for the featured photo of the night sky.