by Isabel Gillies
To be published on September 2, 2014
by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Source: e-ARC from the publisher for review
Synopsis: Sometimes one night can change everything. On this particular night, Wren and her three best friends are attending a black-tie party at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to celebrate the opening of a major exhibit curated by her father. An enormous wind blasts through the city, making everyone feel that something unexpected and perhaps wonderful will happen. And for Wren, that something wonderful is Nolan. With his root-beer-brown Michelangelo eyes, Nolan changes the way Wren’s heart beats.
My take: This is going to be another "in defense of" review -- some points I'd like to make about a book that's received some pretty hard knocks on Goodreads. In this review, I'd like to look at some of the complaints and present a different take...
If you missed my In Defense Of review of Anatomy of a Misfit, you can read it here.
As with that review, I cut and pasted some Goodreads reviews of Starry Night and came up with this wordle:
Young characters: Yes, the characters in this book are fifteen, and it is a truth universally acknowledged among YA readers that 14 and 15 year-old protagonists can be problematic. Not because there's anything inherently wrong with being that age, but perhaps because there is something unnerving about watching 14 and 15 year olds do things that characters do in YA novels -- drinking, having sex, sneaking around behind their parents' backs, saving the world, discovering they have superpowers, and, of course, falling into undying and eternal love. Why are these things plausible when 16 or 17 year olds do them? I don't know. I did a post a while back that discussed "young" YA and while I think that this book does have a bit of a young voice (more on that below), some of the things that the characters in this book do are quite mature. Perhaps that dissonance is what has bothered some readers.
Writing: Wren's voice is definitely unique. She jumps around in time and goes off on tangents. She's an impulsive storyteller. She has some learning differences -- she's dyslexic and dysgraphic and also has ADHD. I admired the way this book tried to capture the mental processes of someone whose mind works a little differently. Yes, I can see that Wren's narrative could be all over the place at times, but I got used to it. Yes, Wren uses some unfortunate turns of phrase, like root beer brown Michelangelo eyes and Mozart of Mozarella.
Privilege: This book was pitched as a "New York book." This is a book about New Yorkers who get to attend black tie galas at the Met. At times, Wren and her friends feel like 15 going on 30. They go to an expensive, exclusive private school. Some of them are driven around the city in town cars. Wren borrows her mother's designer gown to go to a gala at the Metropolitan Museum. Writing about rich, privileged characters like this can be a minefield -- are you playing on readers' wish fulfillment fantasies, or showing them characters that don't seem very sympathetic or relatable?
Romance: It seems like some readers went into this expecting a fluffy romance. I'd read a 2009 adult book by Gillies, It Happens Every Day, an autobiographical story of how Gillies' first husband suddenly dumped her to marry a colleague and how emotionally and financially devastated she was in the aftermath. So I guess I wasn't shocked that -- and this isn't a spoiler; it's revealed by Wren in chapter one -- the romantic aspect of this story involves some heartbreak. I liked that. The whole "I met you at fifteen and will love you forever" is a reality to some people, but not to most of us.
In sum, this book has some quirks. But maybe you're also willing to give it a chance. If so, let me know what you thought!