Review:  Defy the Stars by Stephanie Parent

Review: Defy the Stars by Stephanie Parent

This is                

warmth all around me.                

a new world opening.                

two stars colliding. And I think                

I’m drowning.

The blurb for Stephanie Parent’s self-published novel in verse, Defy the Stars, says that it will appeal to fans of Ellen Hopkins and Lisa Schroeder. While I disagree that this novel will work for fans of Lisa’s gentle style of storytelling, I imagine that the issue-driven, highly-dramatic style of Defy the Stars will appeal to Hopkins’ readers. 

Unfortunately, like Hopkins’ novels, while Defy the Stars was well-written and readable, I never felt engaged with nor sympathetic to the characters. 

Defy the Stars is told from the point-of-view of Julia, a classical piano student headed to a top-notch music conservatory. She meets Reed, whom she describes as a “stoner” in English class where they engage in a debate about Romeo & Juliet and the notion of love at first sight. The two—thanks to a series of coincidental meetings—quickly begin an intense relationship, but like Romeo & Juliet, find that their love is likely impossible.

The biggest obstacle to the couple’s happiness is Reed’s involvement in drug culture and drug abuse.

“Yeah,” I say aloud, “he skulks around like he’s collapsing under the weight of his own personal rain cloud.”

Julia is quickly finds herself drawn into Reed’s world, and experiments with methamphetamines several times. Meanwhile, Reed continues to spiral downward, taking Julia—who’s distracted by the intense relationship—right down with him. As their relationship unfolds, a tragedy changes everything for both teens, leaving them at a crossroads. 

I’m going to say this straight up: I missed that this is a cautionary tale about drug abuse until I was about a quarter into the book.

This isn’t particularly apparent in either the book description or reviews I’ve read. If I had known this, I probably would not have read Defy the Stars, because I don’t care for novels about drug abuse. Hand-in-hand with stories about this subject matter are chapters and chapters of characters making poor decisions, over and over again. Because of Reed’s drug use, I had a very hard time believing in him as a romantic interest, and while I understand the Julia was interesting in him because he’s attractive and a good musician, I just couldn’t root for them, even as Reed appears to make positive changes in his life. 

When it comes down to it, Julia’s decisions in Defy the Stars aren’t that surprising for a teen girl, but as an adult reader I had a hard time with some of the main character’s choices in terms of understanding why she loved troubled boy Reed so much. 

While this is a verse novel—and I love verse novels—Defy the Stars is largely more of a fractured prose-style than a more structured verse novel like, say, Love and Leftovers.

I tend to prefer the later, so again, my personal preferences really impacted my enjoyment of Defy the Stars. Also, the individual poems/scenes do not have titles or headings, which I definitely missed, since that’s what I’m used to in verse novels. With that said, I would definitely recommend this novel for people who have shied away from verse novels because of the association with poetry. It reads as much more of a flowing steam-of-consciousness than some of the more formally-structured verse novels such as Shakespeare Bats Cleanup (a favorite of mine). 

Like many of the highly dramatic novels that are popular lately (Slammed, Beautiful Disaster, Pushing the Limits, et al) that are popular at the moment, Defy the Stars is a very plot-heavy novel, which results in it being light on character development and I prefer character-driven stories when it comes to realistic fiction. However, if you like dramatic novels, there’s plenty—family drama, relationship drama, school drama, it’s all present in Defy the Stars. 

The plot-heavy drama is aided by several elements that often frustrate me. This includes several dream sequences and the evil boy Julia used to date serving as the catalyst for many of the problems she and Reed encounters. Like most of my issues with Defy the Stars, your mileage may vary, because these are personal preferences as opposed to writing or structural issues with the narrative.

The highlight for me in Defy the Stars was definitely the sections about Julia and her relationship with the piano and music.

Those passages just bring the music and her struggles with and passion for it, to life.

Good-bye to calculus, chemistry, world history; hello to Chopin, Copland, Tchaikovsky.  I’ll be learning what matters to me, surrounded by other people who get it— it being music, obviously—and for the first time in my life, I’ll feel like I’m really part of something.

(My apologies for incorrectly breaking the free verse lines—my notes function on my kindle didn’t carry over the formatting.)

I believe the author has a music background and it really shows—I could have read an entire novel exclusively focused on the music aspect of Julia’s life—it’s vibrant and fascinating. 

I also appreciate that Parent stayed true to the inspiration material without interpreting it in a literal manner like so many retellings do. In some ways this reminded me of When You Were Mine in that key scenes from Romeo & Juliet are identifiable, and the themes are the same, but both are definitely their own stories with their own narratives.

While Defy the Stars wasn’t a win for me, it’s a book that I’d recommend to readers looking for a dramatic, issue-based contemporary novel. It’s self-published but I did not notice any typos or other editing errors and it feels finished and sound from an editorial perspective. It is unfortunate that Defy the Stars is currently only available as a Kindle book because while I’m a committed digital reader, I find that I far prefer verse novels in paper form because of the nuances of formatting and spacing inherent in the verse.

FNL Character Rating: Waverly Grady

At this time it appears that Defy the Stars is only available as an ebook on Amazon’s Kindle platform

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