For our Thursday Evening Reads, we're reviewing Phoebe North's Starglass.
Our Tuesday and Thursday evening reads are books to lose yourself in, after a long day at school/work!
Hardcover, 448 pages
Expected publication: July 23rd 2013 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Format read: E-ARC via Edelweiss
As someone who has long followed Phoebe’s reviews on Goodreads, I was excited to hear that she was writing a sci-fi YA book about a generational ship.
Though the idea of a multi-generational ship traveling to distance planets has definitely been done before – see Beth Revis’s 2010 YA novel Across the Universe for the most recent example – I had confidence that North would create her own unique spin on the idea.
After being lucky enough to read an advanced reader copy of Starglass, I can safely say that I was right.
Several hundreds years in the future, sixteen-year-old Terra Fineberg is experiencing a tough time onboard the starship Asherah.
In her personal life, Terra’s struggling to get over the death of her mother, while also dealing with the increasingly violent tendencies of her alcoholic father. While she does have a brother and sister-in-law also living onboard the ship, neither one of them are actually around enough to have an influence on Terra’s family dynamics.
To make things more complicated, Terra’s also reached the age where she, along with the other sixteen-year-olds on the ship, will be assigned their vocations. Though Terra is given a sought-after specialist position, it’s as a botanist. It’s a far cry from Terra’s originally hoped for position as an artist.
Elsewhere on the ship, there’s discontent brewing amongst various members of the ship. From the highest echelons of Asherah society to the farmer on the street, the ship’s citizens are beginning to rebel against the strict rules enforced by the governing council.
As Asherah travels closer to the destination planet Zehava – which may or may not be habitable – passion will explode on the ship, secrets will be revealed and the rebellion will begin.
Whew. That’s quite the overview, right? Well, trust me when I say – it’s only a quarter of the various plotlines that North has interwoven into Starglass. It’s a dense and tightly woven novel. With that being said, let’s start off with the things that worked:
Things that worked:
* One of the first things that jumped at me when reading Starglass, was the cast of characters.
North has created a strong, memorable assortment cast of people, especially in Terra. She’s smart, clever and not willing to accept the status quo for her life onboard the ship.
However, even when things don’t go her way, she’s still willing to roll with the punches – e.g. when she’s assigned to become a botanist.
On occasion, Terra does sound slightly older than her age. However, it’s to be expected, given both events in her personal life, and the general regimented type of life onboard the Asherah.
* North’s interesting twist on the concept of the generational ship.
Instead of the standard ship-in-space-whose-looking-for-a-home narrative, North makes the Asherah unique by having its origins found in followers who want to practice and maintain the Jewish faith. From a reader’s perspective, this immediately provokes a lot of interesting questions – e.g. were there other ships devoted specifically to individual religions? And how does a religion evolve over time?
* North is very detail-orientated, and this shows in her description of the ship.
I was able to form a very clear idea of the world inside the Asherah, and the social hierarchy. I also loved her inclusion of small details like how the citizens have to take pills, to adjust to (potentially) longer days and nights; the research into the types of plants needed to be planted both on the ship and on Zehava, etc.
* North does a good job of unfolding the mystery involving the Children of Abel, and juxtaposing Terra’s discovery into the true meaning of the group, with the reader also learning more about the origins of the ship.
She does give a lot of detail – more on this later – into Terra’s life as she evolves into adulthood, as she becomes both a botanist and a viable member of the rebellion.
However, despite its unique take on traditional science fiction concepts, Starglass isn’t without its weaknesses. The majority of the issues which cropped up during the reading tended to center around writing/plotting issues.
Things that didn’t work/Things to consider:
* Some unanswered logistical questions. It’s indicated in the journal that more than one ship left earth. Where are the other ships? Have they lost contact with the Asherah in the intervening years? How and why? If not, are the other ships going to be settling on neighboring planets?
I realize that none of these questions ultimately add to the story that North is trying to tell, but I have a feeling that people are going to wonder regardless.
* North is a very prolific writer, and this sometimes resulted in unnecessary dialogue and overly descriptive descriptions – a lot of which became kind of tasking to read.
E.g. When Terra goes to obtain the Digitalis purpurea in the lab. North goes into almost unnecessary detail with Terra’s thought process – from observing that the placards were yellowed with age, to wondering if it’s fate pushing her down the correct aisle.
I’m generally fairly lenient with a writer’s desire to fully describe/set a scene, but I strongly feel that North could have benefitted from further editing.
* The letter in the beginning. It’s not made clear until later on in the book that the letter is written by one of Terra’s ancestors and it definitely leads to some confusion for readers early on. I’ve seen more than one reviewer mention this.
(The letter does say “Spring 467 YTL” at the top, but it’s not really obvious what that specifically refers to, until later. It might be worth considering adding something in brackets at the bottom like [written 400 years before landing/present day)
* The ending.
While North does her best to make Terra’s decision to leave for the planet look like a logical next step after the frequency/vividness of her dreams, I still found it surprising and out of left field. Terra’s clearly seen that the alien creatures are hostile, and are willing to do whatever they need to do to protect their planet. Why is she so willing to automatically trust them?
Her dreams – in my opinion – aren’t written to the point where they seem like enough of a motivator for Terra to take that step.
I really enjoyed Starglass, but I felt that North’s debut novel would have been stronger with more editing, and (ironically enough) the inclusion of more logistical details. There were too many unanswered questions and unnecessary detail, which distracted me from enjoying the novel fully.
However, I will definitely be back for the sequel and I will still happily recommend this novel to others – especially for fans of Beth Revis, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury and Orson Scott Card.
Starglass comes out in July from Simon and Schuster, Books for Young Readers.