Title: These Broken Stars (Starbound, #1)
Author: Amie Kaufman
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Release Date: December 10th, 2013
These Broken Stars is an absolutely stunning debut. I read this in four hours, unable to even change the repeating playlist on my iPod as my fingers were too occupied, flipping page after page. Ever since reading Sara Creasy’s space-opera duology earlier this year, I’ve been keeping my fingers crossed that the science-fiction genre would take the plunge into terraforming planets. Thus, for me, These Broken Stars is both science-fiction and young adult at their finest. It brings forth a dangerous, mysterious, but thrilling new planet as its setting, all with a backdrop of teenage survivors.
I was besotted with this novel from the first chapter itself. These Broken Stars is told in alternating perspectives between Lilac, the rich daughter of the man who founded the galactic empire of our story, and Tarver, the self-made war hero who rose up from his middle-class status, only to still be considered the lowest of the low among the upper-class society he serves. When Lilac and Tarver meet unexpectedly aboard the Icarus, they think nothing of it; after all, on a ship so huge, what are the chances of them seeing each other again? Quite decent, it seems, for the two find themselves on an escape pod together when the Icarus malfunctions. Against all odds, they wash up on an unknown planet, alive with terraformed plants, but no human life. With only each other to rely on, the two must find a way to survive on the harsh new planet they’ve been placed on – or die trying.
Although its world-building isn’t the most intricate, the world of These Broken Stars is uncharted territory for YA – thankfully so. It sets up an intriguing universe, one with multiple planets and a strict hierarchy. We see this class order in its most brutal form when it comes to Lilac, who is forbidden from all contact with other men, not for any punishment she will receive, but rather for the death they will face. Thus, when Tarver meets Lilac for the first time, she is charmed at his genuine interest in her, though she must quickly push him away. When the two are stuck together on an escape pod, and then on a mysterious planet, their relationship is terse and frosty, with neither of them able to get along. Moreover, burdened by their stereotypes of one another, they are quick to judge and slow to trust.
It is this, I feel, that makes These Broken Stars such a spectacular YA novel. While Lilac feels most at control in her society balls, Tarver is in his skin in the dense forest they find themselves in. As a Major, he is used to scouting new and difficult terrain, having lived on many different planets, thus the reversal of power in this situation is interesting to watch. And the reason I mention that this situation is so perfect for the YA age group is because it automatically lends itself to so much growth. As Tarver and Lilac grow accustomed to one another, learning to live with, understand, and even like each other despite their bristly exteriors, they also discover parts of themselves. Lilac, most noticeably, embraces who she really is, underneath her layers of frills, rising to the challenge of surviving and turning into a hardened, but emboldened, young woman. For Tarver, his growth stems from the emotional attachments he finally allows himself to feel, tackling his past demons along with discovering his emotional vulnerabilities.
Alongside these immense routes of self-discovery, however, is the slow build-up of an equal relationship. Where both Tarver and Lilac are quick to assume the roles in which they are most skilled, they learn to balance the load and the stereotypical stigmas that cling to their economic status fade away with time. Furthermore, the slow-burn romance that gradually builds between these two is captivating. Although their relationship starts out with little trust and more than a few lost tempers, it shifts into a strong friendship and from there, the leap to that eventual first kiss is agonizing, but worth it. I was surprised by the depth of emotion I felt for these two strong characters, perseverant in their need to survive, but also in their love for one another. And, surprisingly, I don’t cringe at using the word “love” here – it’s hard-earned and worth it.
While These Broken Stars takes place on a different planet altogether, giving rise to its science-fiction genre labeling, it is, primarily, a survivalist story. Tarver and Lilac’s relationship is an entertaining forefront, certainly, but the situations these two find themselves in are written with poise and depth, managing to add layers to both the characters and the plot at the same time. Additionally, there are traces of the paranormal underlying this tale, as mysterious whispers follow Lilac wherever she travels. Yet, though it spans many genres and topics, Kaufman’s debut is tightly written, woven with a dual narration that is not only moving, but distinct.
If there are any flaws with this story, it is that one or two plot threads are wrapped up a little quickly towards the end. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the full explanations for them remain a little shabby, but to be frank, I wasn’t too bothered by this fact. After all, these same plot devices caused my heart to rupture, giving me more than a fair share of emotional turmoil while reading this book, so I was glad to be well-and-done with them after a certain point. Granted, there are a few issues I feel could have been fleshed-out a tiiiny bit better, but I have little to complain with a story so flawless. Thus, I feel as if the ending of this novel is, ultimately, adequate, and reads perfectly as a stand-alone, though sufficiently whetting the appetite for future companion novels from this world. Infused with depth, three-dimensional characters, and ground-breaking new ideas, These Broken Stars will likely leave you dazedly pleased and profoundly giddy. I know I still am.
A Note on the Cover: I seem to have gone from the mentality that pretty covers equate books I simply have to get my hands on to pretty covers equaling books I really need to run away from. Sadly, beautiful covers have tricked me too often in the past, but thankfully, the cover of These Broken Stars speaks no lies. And, best of all, the cover is totally relevant! Lilac wears an elaborate green dress when she is ship-wrecked and has bright red hair, while Tarver wears his usual gear during this novel. I'm still reeling from the fact that a YA cover managed to get it right, so let's hope this is a first for many more covers to come! (And by that, we all know I mean I'm hoping for some more ethnicities to emerge on these covers. Wouldn't that be a surprise?)