Liberty on Earth, Liberty on Zehava!

Starglass

15945897Author: Phoebe North
Release Date: July 23, 2013
Publisher:
 Simon and Schuster for Young Readers
Source: Edelweiss DRC
Genre(s): Young Adult, YA Science Fiction, Science Fiction, Jewish Fiction

Rating: ★★★☆☆
Review Spoilers: High
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I have very mixed feelings about Starglass. For the most part I think I can say that I liked it. At no point did I ever struggle to finish the book or feel like I needed to take a break from it. But I don’t think I enjoyed it as much as I was hoping I would. The idea of generation ships and space travel are fascinating to me and I loved reading through Beth Revis’s Across the Universe (though I admit to not having read the sequel yet) so I was expecting to really like this one as well. So, I’m not sure if my desire to give this a two-and-a-half star rating is more about my expectations or the book itself. I rounded up to there stars to give the book the benefit of the doubt.

Starglass starts off with a lot of promise. It follows the life of a teenager named Terra Feinberg who has lived her entire life on a ship called the Asherah. For hundreds of years it has traveled quietly through space searching for a new planet that they have called Zehava. Everyone’s lives are essentially run by the Council, a group which seems to be generally benevolent despite the strict control they keep over their community. Terra, who loves art and wants to be an artist despite the lowly position in their society, instead winds up with a specialist position as a botanist trainee which could afford her certain privileges and powers and a way to take care of herself. She has to deal with her ornery training specialist, the affection of her father’s new trainee, troubles with boys and her best friend, among other things. Like, you know, seeing someone murdered and discovering that there’s a rebellion against the Council. (Because, of course, no young adult book can really be complete these days without a rebellion.)

It’s a fairly slow paced book which was actually a nice change. Some books move too fast, others too slow. I think this one found hit it’s stride and knew how to keep it for the most part. Though, at some points – especially at the end – it just got to a point where it felt like we were just getting twist after twist after twist. I get that there is some crazy stuff going on but man. A lot of the stuff just came out of left field and you have to sit there and sort of be like, “Really? That’s the direction we’re going with this?” I appreciate twists as much as the next person but at some point I just need a minute.

Still, the bulk of the book was pretty good.

The backstory behind the Asherah was pretty cool and definitely unique. The entire ship is essentially a special cultural preservation project established by a Jewish group to preserve their culture and heritage after Earth was finally destroyed. I actually really liked that idea because I could see that in the advent of the end of the world a lot of people would probably do things like that and bond together to make sure their cultures survived. Hebrew and Yiddish words are common (though I suppose we assume that they speak English otherwise) in Terra’s world and if you’re not familiar with them you might get confused. But it’s an interesting way of making something seem alien and foreign to readers without making them actually alien or foreign.

I actually really enjoyed the whole social system that was established fairly early on. The world building was interesting and believable to a point. So, to be honest, I wasn’t sure what the deal with rebelling against the Council was. They seemed fairly reasonable. They let people clone and breed pets when they realized how much they helped with morale. They regulated population because they needed to. They changed the seasons and the length of days artificially to help people adjust to what they thought the conditions would be on Zehava as the got closer and could send out more probes. They really didn’t do the best job of demonizing the Council in my opinion and the rebellion actually seemed to be kind of douches.

Maybe that was more the characterization and development of the different people in the story, though. Terra herself is hard to like sometimes. I’m not entirely sure what was going on with her but I felt that she was kind of unsympathetic at times. She was mean to her brother when he left to get married (disregarding the fact that he had to get married and start a family at some point under their laws) and I didn’t really get the whole abusive father thing from what I was shown. Yeah, he was kind of a dick and he took her mother’s death hard but still. She didn’t listen to her brother when he came to talk about their father and well… you’ll find out how that goes.

I did appreciate the development of her training specialist though in the botany labs. For whatever reason I have forgotten her name but I really liked her. A tough woman who never wanted children, goes along with things because she has to, and doesn’t take shit from anyone if she can avoid it. I like it. I felt bad for her kids but hey. I actually kind of liked Coen, the boy working for Terra’s father, too, and thought their who relationship arch was probably one of the more interesting things in the book. We get a bit of a after school special on LGBT bullying thrown into the story but I didn’t mind it; it certainly raised some questions and I felt bad about how things went there, too. I just felt bad a lot when it came to these people and their relationships. Nothing seemed to work out for anyone. Which was actually a relief because the whole love at first sight thing that most young adult novels suffer from has been getting super old. I liked the reality that people had to face in this story.

Starglass is a lot about facing reality and growing up. Making hard choices – especially under pressure. I think that it really sort of knew what it was doing when those were the big elements. But then things really changed up at the end and I’m interested to see how it all gets pulled back together in the next book. There’s at least one more book coming out called Starbreak and the expected publication date seems to be July 2014. I’m just saying, there are forgivable cliffhangers and then there are ones like this that just completely and totally change the story at the last minute and leave you floored for a full year! Not cool, bro.

Final Thoughts:
If you’ve ever wanted to answer someone’s question when they ask, “Hey, what’s that book about?” and answer seriously, “Jews in space!” then this is the book for you. Joking aside, it’s a slow paced and easy read that I think most fans of the genre would enjoy. It certainly isn’t for everyone but you should be good so long as you’re a young adult fan who enjoys hard science fiction and female narrators. Be prepared for some big twists and turns towards the end, though, and know that you’re not going to get much in the way of answers until the second book is released. If you’re impatient, maybe wait until it’s closer to the second book’s release date to tackle this one.

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