Author: Audrey Coulthurst & Paula Garner
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release Date: April 16th, 2019
Genre(s): YA Contemporary
Subjects and Themes: LGBTQIAP+, Female Friendships, Family
Page Count: 352 (hardback)
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?
*Tries to write review*
*Remembers that I read this two months ago and that I have the memory of a goldfish when it comes to books*
*Clutches head and swears profusely at the procrastination gods*
There’s a lot of that kind of dialogue in this book, and sometimes it’s cute and other times it’s cringey, so if you’re super sensitive to secondhand embarrassment, you…might have a hard time with it.
But I’m getting ahead of myself!
Starworld is a slow-burn contemporary story about an awkward artsy girl and a popular girl who navigate the murky waters of family and friendship together. Both girls have difficult family lives–one has with a mother with OCD and the other a mother with cancer and a brother with special needs–and the emotions surrounding these everyday battles are shown so incredibly well. Guilt, resentment, anger, and love connecting all of it–it’s messy and complex and the book gives no definite answers on how they should be reacting to these problems, which I thought was beautifully realistic.
And to see Sam and Zoe come together and realize they have so much in common, and that their personalities mesh so well, was a treat to read. Believable chemistry is so hard to pull off in stories and these girls have it in spades.
Now for the not-so-great parts:
The story doesn’t really come with an overarching plot and so the pacing moves from slow to near-glacial (so much that it felt a lot longer than 352 pages). There’s a lot of extraneous dialogue and scenes with people eating and doing other mundane activities; which isn’t necessarily a bad thing–just not for everyone.
And I did find some of the text dialogue overbearing. I think there’s a limit to how much asterisk talk (or “startalk”) I can handle and there’s a LOT of it in this book. And I’m speaking as someone who uses asterisks all the time. Doesn’t mean I want to read through a hundred pages of it.
My biggest problem, though, is with the ending. I appreciate the authors sticking to the theme of life being messy and unpredictable, but the execution just made me super annoyed.
[Spoilers: highlight to read] Everything leading up to the ending made me believe that this was a strangers-to-friends-to-lovers story. Turns out I was horribly wrong because Zoe ends up rejecting Sam, and Sam goes into ghost mode and ignores her for the rest of the school year. The end.
Compared to the care that was put into their relationship for 300+ pages, everything about this ending was abrupt and underdeveloped. The open communication that was such a key part of the friendship straight-up vanishes in this final act and I couldn’t help but feel cheated.
So my feelings on it are mixed. But I would still recommend it just for Zoe and Sam’s friendship (sans the ending), because they are very, very good together and we always need more stories about girls helping each other to find themselves.
Review copy provided by the publisher via Netgalley. All opinions are my own.