Google+ YA Romantics: Starglass Blog Tour: Review and Interview with author Phoebe North

Monday, July 15, 2013

Starglass Blog Tour: Review and Interview with author Phoebe North

I'm excited to be part of the blog tour for Starglass, hosted by Shane at Itching for Books.
And I've got a lot for you, including an interview with Phoebe North, the book's trailer, and a giveaway!

Starglass
by Phoebe North
to be published by Simon & Schuster BFYR
on July 16, 2013




Connect with the author: www.phoebenorth.com | twitter.com/phoebenorth
Summary from Goodreads: Terra has never known anything but life aboard the Asherah, a city-within-a-spaceship that left Earth five hundred years ago in search of refuge. At sixteen, working a job that doesn't interest her, and living with a grieving father who only notices her when he's yelling, Terra is sure that there has to be more to life than what she's got. But when she inadvertently witnesses the captain's guard murdering an innocent man, Terra is suddenly thrust into the dark world beneath her ship's idyllic surface. As she's drawn into a secret rebellion determined to restore power to the people, Terra discovers that her choices may determine life or death for the people she cares most about. With mere months to go before landing on the long-promised planet, Terra has to make the decision of a lifetime--one that will determine the fate of her people.
My take: Starglass is an intelligent and thought-provoking book with a timeless feel, a sci-fi story that also is rich with coming-of-age and political themes. As the book opens, Terra is angry and heartbroken at her mother's untimely death, and chafes at all the restrictions placed on her by the ship's Council, which controls reproduction and assigns jobs to all residents. As the story unfolds, Terra is drawn into a  life-or-death struggle between opposing factions on the ship.

For book set on a spaceship, there isn't a strong sci-fi vibe -- I was expecting talk of stuff like particle accelerators and thrust vector control. Because the ship's residents have been on the ship for centuries, they're more like a social experiment in isolation than a futuristic society. And indeed, Starglass is more focused on human behavior than cool gadgets, using the Asherah as a setting in which competing social factions plot and clash. After Terra stumbles on a murder, she's placed right in the crossfire, pulled in one direction by those who appeal to her rebellious side and by others who appeal to her romantic one.

Starglass is definitely strong on characterization. The book does not offer obvious heroes and villains, but a group of characters who are complex and multi-faceted. In many ways, Terra is a typical teenager, her mood alternating between prickly and ebullient. In other ways, she seems like a relic beamed in from the past. Absent any modern technology or cool space age gadgets, Terra perches in a tree with her sketchbook, dreaming of the boy who will come and sweep her off her feet. But as the book progresses, she definitely has to face some unpleasant truths about her community, her family, and even herself.

Starglass is beautifully written and raises interesting political and philosophical issues. How can a small, fragile society balance order with freedom, the need for practicality and survival with a human yearning for joy?  Starglass serves up plenty of thought-provoking questions, but doesn't offer any glib and easy answers.

I'm excited that Phoebe North, author of Starglass, could stop by and chat about the book!

Jen:  Hi, Phoebe, and welcome!  I find Starglass a difficult book to categorize. There are sci-fi elements, it's a coming of age story, and there are also strong political and philosophical themes. How do you describe it?

Phoebe North

Phoebe: I consider Starglass soft sci-fi, which is a large umbrella term for any science fiction that focuses on the "soft" rather than the "hard" sciences like physics or biology--instead centering on subjects like sociology and anthropology. My primary concern here, aside from Terra's coming of age (and the novel is certainly in many ways a bildungsroman) was on the society of the Asherah and on how people function in highly restrictive situations. There are elements of dystopia, certainly, but I saw them more as an artifact of the setting rather than the novel's primary focus. 


Jen: Given the fact that you are a sci-fi fan and former sci-fi book blogger, I was definitely surprised that Starglass didn't feel as science-heavy as I expected. How did you decide how much scientific explanation to incorporate?

Phoebe: It's funny you say that, because I definitely did a *lot* of research on the path to writing Starglass, from habitable planets to the minimum population necessary to maintain genetic variation in a closed society to constant acceleration drives to genetically modified crops! But I used a method that Jo Walton terms "incluing" to incorporate all of this science into the novel. When a writer utilizes incluing, he or she will scatter worldbuilding throughout via word choice and setting details. This reduces the need for tiresome infodumps, but it necessitates putting a lot of trust in your readership. The best science fiction feels, in some ways, like a mystery, where the reader has to put together the clues of the world as he or she goes along. That was my hope with Starglass, that while the world might feel a little dense or strange at the outset (readers might puzzle over things like children being born in hatcheries), they'll come to innately understand the universe by the novel's end.

Jen: I was definitely a little puzzled at the outset, especially by the Yiddish words! So, the original inhabitants of the Asherah were secular Jews who boarded the ship centuries ago to escape a meteor that threatened Earth. Their descendants -- the characters in Starglass -- still retain some vestiges of their Jewish heritage, but have abandoned or modified other religious practices.  Can you talk a little bit about the role that religion plays in your story?

Phoebe: My own religious background is mixed; my father was a broadly spiritual Christian, while my mother was raised Orthodox Jewish. We grew up with both a Christmas tree and a menorah! While I consider myself agnostic, I still find myself enacting the cultural rituals of either religion, decorating our house with string lights every winter and saying prayers over shabbos candles on Friday nights. I've always been fascinated by the way that religious traditions can permeate a culture even when most members of that culture aren't devout, for example in the way the debates about gay marriage and abortion have played out in contemporary America. And my interest in Judaism, specifically, has been long-lived. I feel more culturally Jewish than I do Christian--though maybe some of this comes from my own awareness of the matrilineal nature of Judaism. But I know that my own Jewish heritage is largely invisible to others, due to my last name, my tattoos, my fair coloring, or the fact that I never had a Bat Mitzvah.

Though I've always been fascinated by these tensions, I didn't consciously set out to write a Jewish science fiction story when I began Starglass. Terra's last name, Fineberg, was initially a placeholder, stolen from my mother's side of the family. In fact, in those first early pages of what would become Starglass, I littered the book with generic sci-fi worldbuilding. But something was missing. I needed a grounding element for my world, something that would be naturalistic and real, but still add texture to the story. And I hit upon using the Yiddish of my grandparents' home in place of some invented language. It felt very natural to me--after all, I pepper my own casual speech with Yiddish, despite the fact that I don't truly speak the language. And I was beyond pleased with the result. It added quite a bit of nuance to the dystopian elements; there's nothing quite as off-putting as misappropriated religion. But I also found that it was a natural way to work out my own feelings about Judaism in diaspora, about cultural heritage, and about my own religious inheritance even as I've found myself stepping away from religious belief. 

Jen: On the Asherah, marriage and reproduction are carefully controlled. Yet Terra, your main character, has vivid dreams about her bashert -- her soulmate. Can you explain the concept and your decision to introduce it into a society where romantic love isn't always possible? Also, how does the idea of a bashert compare with the much maligned YA trope of instalove?

Phoebe: Ooh, good question. In truth, I don't think that Terra's yearning for her bashert is much different from our own cultural myths about soulmates, even in our own imperfect society with a high divorce rate. The ability to choose one's spouse doesn't making *finding* your perfect match any less difficult, and yet stories of soulmates and flawless YA boys abound.  

The reason I believe that these stories are common in media for teenagers is that many teenagers yearn to be understood. And what is instalove if it's not that? You meet a boy, lock eyes, and suddenly you're no longer strange or sad or alone. You're recognized as a good, worthy individual who can experience things like perfect friendship and love (and maybe some kissing too). It's an appealing myth for girls who might doubt their own self worth. What they're really looking for is not just love, but validation and recognition. And wanting that external validation from a partner is totally understandable, even if the way it plays out in fiction isn't always quite believable.

Within the story of Starglass, Terra stands out as quite strange within her society, a side-effect of being a parentless child and the daughter of an alcoholic on a ship full of seemingly-perfect nuclear families. Her anxiety over her ability to fit in is both palpable and realistic; it ISN'T always possible to find your true love in your small home town. And Terra tries, of course, with both Silvan and Koen--but as she's doing so, she's forcing herself into a mold that doesn't quite fit. The dreams that Terra has, meanwhile, are quite embarrassing to her. There's nothing in her societal narrative to explain them. But she needs to embrace the strange, terrifying parts of herself in order to get what she wants. She has to recognize her desires, her history, and even her very self as worthy.

And that's where Starglass ends--with an act of self-validation that is, in some ways, a really strange, scary choice. Terra needs to finally embrace the fact that she is worthy of love to reach the climactic ending of the first novel, when she's spent the majority of it denying and repressing her desires. Which isn't to say that what follows in the second book comes easily, but I'm of the opinion that love is always better for us when we love ourselves, first.

Jen: Given the ending, I figured there was more story to come, and I saw on Goodreads that the sequel will be called Starbreak and be released in 2014.  Have you finished writing? Can you give us any hints about what's to come in the story?

Phoebe: Starbreak is all finished! I absolutely adore this book. It's the novel I always wanted to write, ever since I was a thirteen-year-old obsessed with space and aliens. Which, um, might be telling you something about the world you'll see in the sequel! But at it's heart, it's a love story--not a particularly easy one (I like to make Terra's life difficult for her, frankly) but one that I hope feels as real and well-earned to readers as it does to me.

Jen: Thanks so much for stopping by!

Here's Phoebe's bio, and below that, the book trailer AND an amazing giveaway!


Phoebe North spent the first twenty-two years of her life in New Jersey, where she lugged countless library books home to read in the bathtub, at the dinner table, in front of the television, and under the blankets with a flashlight when she should have been asleep. After college, Phoebe went south, enrolling in the University of Florida’s MFA program to study poetry. But after studying children’s literature with kidlit scholars (and geniuses) Kenneth Kidd and John Cech, she started writing books about magic, robots and aliens for teenagers. And realized she loved it almost as much as she loved Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Now, Phoebe lives in New York State with her husband, and many licensed novels. She likes to cook, watch Degrassi, sew, take her cat for walks, and, of course, write. Despite many soaked pages, she still loves to read in the bath.


Starglass Book Trailer from Phoebe North on Vimeo.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

46 comments:

  1. I'm really excited to check this out especially because it's not too heavily sci-fi (I prefer those kinds of stories) and because of the religious influences.

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    1. Me too -- I'm definitely getting more into sci-fi, and I didn't even know there was such a thing as "soft" sci-fi.
      I think you'll enjoy this one!

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  2. I like the sounds of a soft sci-fi. And what a wonderful interview. You ask the best interview questions. I look forward to reading this one. :)

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    1. Aw, thanks. I love it when a book makes it so easy to think of questions :)

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  3. Great interview & review. Thanks for participating :)

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  4. My favorite science fiction novel is probably Tunnel in the Sky by Heinlein.

    But I've been super excited about this one, since I love Phoebe's blog, and this interview just increases my excitement! She clearly put a lot of thought into the world, which is important to me as a reader.

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    1. She definitely did -- the world was so detailed that sometimes I'd forget it was on a spaceship!

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  5. Hmmm, I still just love 1984 and Fahrenheit 451.

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  6. This sounds really good. I love that it's not too sciencey because I get confused easily. I love the interview too. Very good questions! I have only just started to get into sci-fi recently. I don't even know what my favorite is, but I really liked In the After.

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    1. I'm with you -- I need to read about all the different sub-genres of sci-fi. I'm pretty new to it also!

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  7. I just started reading a little bit of sci fi and so far my favorite is Reboot by Amy Tintera

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  8. Beautifully written and thought provoking seems great to me

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  9. This actually sounds like my kind of book. I love soft sci-fi and I love when the heroes and villains aren't always obvious.

    I think my favorite sci-fi novel is probably A Wrinkle In Time. I need to read it, though!

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  10. I started reading this book last night and so far I am enjoying it. Great review =) I'm not too big on sci-fi novels but I think my favorite is Ender's Game.

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  11. Does Cinder/Scarlet count as sci-fi? I never understand the sci-fi, fantasy, high-fantasy stuff. I need to Wikipedia research this stuff. ;)

    Sabrina @ I Heart Y.A. Fiction

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    1. I definitely think so! But I'm no expert, either :)

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  12. Loved your review and interview! Thanks for the giveaway.

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  13. I think it would be 1984 and maybe The Lunar Chronicles. I haven't read much sci-fi books.

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  14. I really loved Unraveling by Elizabeth Norris! Filled with suspense due to the countdown!

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  15. I'm glad to hear that you trust your readers to understand the science aspect of the story without using large info dumps.

    Also a very interesting take on the appeal of insta-love in YA.

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    1. I know -- I loved her answer on the insta-love. I know insta-love annoys some readers, but I do think that crushes and insta-love are part of the teenage experience.

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  16. Truthfully, I haven't read that many sci-fi novels. I feel like a lot of what's marketed in YA as sci-fi is actually science fantasy. If I had to choose one, I'd probably go with the Lunar Chronicles.

    "Starglass is beautifully written and raises interesting political and philosophical issues. How can a small, fragile society balance order with freedom, the need for practicality and survival with a human yearning for joy?"

    That makes me excited. It's true that while I want more sci-fi in YA, I also want more depth. I want to feel that the book is turning some questions in my head.

    I've never heard of "incluing" but it makes sense - I too believe that even if all the terms and specifics of the world are not introduced, you write in a certain way that allows them to be *felt* vs. the info-dump.

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    1. Actually, I just remembered! I really liked Birthmarked trilogy by Caragh O'Brien and the Sky Chasers series by Amy Kathleen Ryan. Those are two really good YA sci-fi series. :)

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  17. I love sci-fi books! There's Across the Universe, The Sky Chasers...never mind. I can NOT wait of for this one! I love the trailer too, a lot better than a couple I have seen and very cool. Great interview - so interesting!

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  18. I've been venturing into scyfy lately. Light scyfy anyways. "I was expecting talk of stuff like particle accelerators and thrust vector control." that part made me laugh so hard!
    I expect scyfy to be like that too. That's why I don't like it much. I am optomistic this may be a scy fy I actually like..
    Thanks for the giveaway & good interview too!

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  19. I haven't read much sci-fi, but I did adore Ender's Game! I have a stack of sci-fis on my TBR pile now. So exciting! Looks like a fantastic book!

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  20. Right now it is "The Fifth Wave" by Rick Yancey. Gotta love aliens. :D

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  21. Sci-fi books as to die for is executed well. Looking forward to this one.


    Lovely interview, hon! <33

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  22. I love sci-fi especially on a spaceship. I like gadgets but I prefer more about characters. I usually get confused by a lot of science talk! LOL

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  23. This book sounds so good! I've been excited for it ever since the cover reveal, but the interview with Phoebe makes me want to read it even more (if possible, considering my initial excitement!). Favourite sic-fi would probably be Across the Universe by Beth Revis.

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  24. I loved Unraveling by Elizabeth Norris.

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  25. Everyone seem to love this book and a lot of people said that it's beautifully written. I can't wait to read it. For my favorite huh hard to say but I love Lichgates by S.M.Boyce. Not a mainstream book but really worth reading :)
    Great post Jen :)

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  26. I actually don't have a favorite science fiction novel. I don't read much of the genre.

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  27. Thank you SO much for posting this great interview (your questions were SO good!) and for taking the time to participate in the tour!

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  28. I'm not much a fan of sci-fi and this book kind of reminds me of Across the Universe with living in a spaceship storyline and I didn't like that series at all, but I love that Starglass is more about human behavior than the actual science behind the world. I think I might like it. I'll give it a try. Great review, Jen!

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  29. You guys were trading terminology like you were at a scifi convention. LOL! I will definitely have to read this! It did remind me a little of Across the Universe, but there seem to be quite a few books coming out that are about transporting people to another planet. My favorite scifi would probably be Cinder right now. I love that series. I also love the Partials and I Am Number Four series.

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  30. Fantastic interview! I had never heard of incluing before, but I agree that the best sci-fi is like a mystery, and I'll take hinting at worldbuilding cues over infodump any day. :-) Very excited about Starbreak, it sounds like it's going to be epic!

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