I've been dying to read Daisy Whitney's Starry Nights for months. Luckily for me, my local library finally got it in!
Here's my quick and gushing review!
Hardcover, 280 pages
Published September 3rd 2013 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Format read: Physical copy (owned)
Synopsis via Goodreads:
The art is reacting to a curse that trapped a beautiful girl, Clio, in a painting forever. Julien has a chance to free Clio and he can't help but fall in love with her. But love is a curse in its own right. And soon paintings begin to bleed and disappear. Together Julien and Clio must save the world's greatest art . . . at the expense of the greatest love they've ever known.
It’s been frequently described as Night at the Museum meet DaVinci Code, but I – like Heather at FlyLeaf Reviews – actually think that it’s closer to a fairytale.
It has the same foundation of an ordinary person gaining the ability to do extraordinary things, with just a hint of magic, mythology and the battle between good and (semi) evil, thrown in for good measure. This emphasis on the fairytale aspect turns an already intriguing idea, into a YA book that reaches new and extremely entertaining heights.
Things that worked:
I loved the fact that from the get-go, Whitney makes it perfectly clear that Julien is delightfully ordinary. His grades are mediocre, his drawings are good but not brilliant, and he’s been feeling at a loss since being dumped by his girlfriend.
This is not only a refreshing change from either the slacker hero or the super-powered superhero that seems to populate YA these days, but it also makes it easier for readers to cheer Julien on. We want nothing more than for him to gain his groove back – much like a fairytale hero, who is about to prove their greatness - which sets off the following chain of events at the museum perfectly.
As for the secondary characters, they’re the perfect supporting cast – especially if viewed through that fairy tale framework. There are siblings who are there to offer guidance and insight, a pretty girl who helps set off Julien’s abilities, and a best friend who acts as both side-kick and confident. Whitney gives them life, personality and wit, even for the brief scenes that they’re in.
* The setting
I’ve seen some readers critique the lack of French ambiance in the book, but I think Whitney’s sparsely sketched Paris is actually perfect for the story she’s trying to tell.
By not overloading readers with descriptions of the museum or of Paris, she really reinforces the idea that this is a story about art, and how people can use art to interact and interpret the world around them, verses just how we see the world, point blank.
And more importantly, this also reinforces the idea that this is Julien’s journey, from being unsure about himself and his art, to proving that he is in fact, a hero.
* The writing
I saw another reviewer/author mention how impressed she is with Daisy Whitney’s ability to reinvent herself with every book, and I would have to concur.
While I wasn’t a huge fan of When You Were Here, the writing was breathtaking for a contemporary book. She ups the ante again with Starry Nights - Whitney fuses both her beautiful contemporary writing, with a lyrical reinvention of the Muses and art history.
I would say that even without the Paris ambiance, Whitney’s writing alone is enough to immerse you.
Things that didn't work/Things to consider:
1) Julien’s friends would so readily believe his powers.
I think that even for people who were the best of friends, would find it difficult to swallow someone suddenly saying “Hey, not only does my presence bring art to life, but I have the ability to protect from decaying…”
I would have loved it if Whitney had fleshed out the relationship, or at least the disbelief a little more.
2) Julien’s lack of French-ness.
While I thought that Julien was charming as heck, nothing about him really said “French boy in Paris.” His narrative voice sounded really American, and would occasionally take me out of the moment.
Now, the plus side to this? It really emphasizes the idea that fairytales like this are universal. The downside? Readers may be disappointed that he’s not more… French.
While there are definitely some issues that some readers will likely have with the book – e.g. the romance aspect – I would say that this is still a lively tale that will enchant and delight readers.
About the author:
When Daisy's not inventing fictional high school worlds, she can be found somewhere north of San Francisco walking her adorable dog, watching online TV with her fabulous husband or playing with her fantastic kids. A graduate of Brown University, she believes in shoes, chocolate chip cookies and karma. You can follow her writing blog and new media adventures at DaisyWhitney.com.