Khanh the Killjoy


Starglass - Phoebe North Actual rating: 4.5I'm still reeling from my marathon reading session of this book. A spaceship traveling to another planet? Always an interesting concept, but I've had one previous encounter with this premise through a series that shall remain unnamed, and it didn't end well. This book turned my brain upside down, set my head spinning, so on and so forth. Nothing was what I expected from the very first page. I loved this book.A Jewish spaceship traveling to another planet. What. The. Hell.That was my initial reaction. Um...what? Seriously? Skepticism: level 10. At that point, I didn't know what to expect. Ultimately, this idea was so incredibly well executed, and what an utterly unique concept it turned out to be.To put it lightly, I'm not a religious person. At all. I am the first to go off on an expletive-filled rage about how much I do not appreciate religion being forced down my throat. Leave your religiosity out of my fun reading experience, please. This book is not preachy, it is not religious; it is based on a secular Jewish society traveling towards another planet on a spaceship. The society is based on Jewish cultures and values, but it is never overtly religious. I was never offended, I never felt uncomfortable, I never felt this book was preachy in any way. There is a correct way to incorporate religion and its corresponding culture into a book without being offensive, without sounding like a sermon: this book exemplifies how it should be done.The world building and background building is extraordinary. I am highly critical of YA dystopian/sci-fi because so often, there are so many gaping plot holes. There are few such in this book. The history of how the Earth came to be endangered and everyone came to be on a spaceship was adequately explained, and there is actually a reason for the Jewish culture of the spaceship. Up to this book, the spaceship Asherah has been in space for 500 years, traveling towards their destination, the planet Zehava. The background of the spaceship, its history, its culture, its survival, are all very well described and revealed gradually and reasonably throughout the book. I am impatient, I like knowing things so that I know the context of things. This book did not spoon-feed me the details, but the revelations always came at a reasonable, relevant pace that satisfied even me.The history and background is so wonderfully, realistically built; I cannot say I have a single complaint or question about it at all. The spaceship's weather and internal environment is controlled, and seasons come and pass as the Council sees fit. Each family has one child, a male, and a female, hatched from artificial wombs, genetically chosen and bred for strength. Citizens are assigned jobs, they can be leaders, or specialists, or laborers; there is a very clear distinction of class. At the age of sixteen, they can also get married; here's the interesting thing, the male or the female can make a marriage proposal, there are no specific gender roles. There's also diversity in this book, (not too much, since it is a Jewish spaceship, and well, do you know of any Jewish Asians besides Grey's Anatomy's Christina Yang?) but rest assured, you will be pleased with the diverse and complex cast within this small community.The characters are amazing. You think you know your characters, you think you know how people behave? You think you know who is good, who is bad? Think again. Everyone is so wonderfully complex, so brilliantly real.My first impression of our main character, Terra, was not a positive one. She was 12 years old, angry and full of grief from her mother's recent death. Her heightened emotions at the time was also combined with adolescent angst and irrational dislike, and I thought she suffered from the dreaded "Special Snowflake" syndrome at first. She was also so determined to love the useless art of, (and she's not particularly good at it, either); Terra wanted to be an artist despite knowing that the spaceship colony's survival is based on practical skills, and not purely ornamental ones. I grew out of my dislike of her very quickly. Terra is not a special snowflake; she is not perfect, she is not beautiful, but she is a survivor, and she is persistent. She is willing to do what is expected of her by her family and by society, even if it is not her choice. She never acts like a martyr, but she is determined, and Terra does what needs to be done.Terra may be in danger, she is involved in a mystery, but she never acts beyond what is reasonable. I would say that Terra's actions were, for a good chunk of the story---passive. This is not bad. Terra was raised to be a good girl, an obedient one, and good girls do not go pursuing trouble when they see it. She is pulled into the situation, and she does what is needed of her; she does not go seeking out danger for the thrill of it. Her actions are never extraneous.Terra's relationship with her family is so heartbreaking. Her father is...difficult. Anyone who has had an alcoholic parent or knows of someone who suffers from the double whammy of grief and alcoholism knows what a horror it must be like. Terra lives on eggshells. She is afraid of saying the wrong things, doing the wrong things, yet she can't help herself at times; such is the landmine of an adolescent mind, speaking before thinking. They have such a complicated relationship, between his rages and his gentle is a complex, tangled mess, and utterly wrenching to observe."Silence grew between us, intercepted only by the sounds of the celebrations that raged across the observation deck, and the bustle of the hatchery beyond—the shouts of the workers, the cries of new children. I didn’t look my father in the eye as he stared at me, but I didn’t move, either. I couldn’t speak or breathe. I didn’t want to risk inciting his wrath even further."Her relationship with her father naturally translates to Terra's insecurities when the time comes for her to pursue her own relationships as she matures. This book is not overwhelmingly romantic at all. It is incredibly realistic in portraying the intricacies of teenage relationships: the fear, the lust, the awkwardness, the earnestness, the hesitancy...all are well-portrayed. There is nothing predictable about the relationships within this book, and Terra's feelings and doubts are so sadly understandable, given her own family. I loved the portrayal of romance, it is believable and completely acceptable within the context of this story."I should have just accepted it—believed him, believed that it would all be okay. But I couldn’t. I’d spent my whole childhood trying to tiptoe around my father, afraid to even breathe wrong. I didn’t want to spend my marriage like that too."The other characters are equally well-woven; I loved Terra's interactions and relationships with each. I also found Terra's relationship with her best friend, Rachel, refreshing. It shouldn't be, but it is. Unfortunately, a lot of books tend to underplay or slut-shame the beautiful best friend to highlight the "good" in the main character; this book does not do that. Rachel and Terra do not have a perfect relationship, but they are supportive of each other, and they clearly love and care for each other. There are jealousies, there is anger, but it is nothing overdone, and their relationship feels very realistic and by no means idealized.If I have one complaint about this book, it is that there are too many twists. I like having a little bit of predictability, and this book just took me for a headspin. I didn't see anything coming at all. I loved it, but at the same time, I wish things were a little bit less complex. Some things stretched my boundaries of Terra's dreams, but those are small complaints in the very enjoyable grand scale of this book.That ending. Fuck that cliffhanger, man. I can't wait to read the next book.