REVIEW: Chasing the Stars by Malorie Blackman

It’s YA Book Prize time again! My favourite time of the year – in terms of this blog, anyway. Prepare to join me on an odyssey through the #YA10. I’ll be brutally honest about what I love and what I don’t enjoy so much about the ten books deemed worthy contenders for the only prize dedicated to UKYA. This is the second of my reviews (with the first yet to come… don’t ask, it’s all timey-wimey shenanigans.)

ASTRONOMY 101

Olivia Sindall is the teenage captain of a ship hurtling through space back to Earth. A virus has wiped out the rest of the crew, including her family – except for her brother, Aidan. It’s a pretty lonely existence, until one day they intercept a distress signal coming from an uninhabited planet in enemy territory. Vee’s life collides with Nathan’s, and nothing will ever be the same again. The confines of a spaceship are the perfect environment for love to flourish… or to suffocate. Surrounded by rumours and a spate of suspicious accidents, jealousy starts to rear its ugly head.

Othello in space – by Malorie Blackman – sounds like everything a YA nerd could want, right? Whether Chasing the Stars is a retelling or merely inspired by the Bard is up for debate. It has been a little while since I last read/saw Othello, and my literary criticism is not rigorous enough for me to have sought it out for purposes of this review, and therefore I may have missed some nods to the play in the book. Vee and Nathan are obviously Othello and Desdemona, with Aidan playing the role of Iago. Iago’s famously inscrutable motivation is rather cleverly explained here; I cannot elaborate for fear of spoilers, but I enjoyed Blackman’s addition to the canon of interpretations of Iago’s psychology.

There is a whole diverse cast of characters surrounding Nathan and Vee – so many, in fact, that they quickly become interchangeable. Nobody gets very development except for the two narrators, although I did like Commander Linedecker, Nathan’s forthright and authoritative mother (Brabantio, of course). The first person dual narration creates a claustrophobic vibe and allows us to get inside the motivations behind Vee and Nathan’s often frankly baffling actions. However, the very short chapters mean that the POV often changes several times within the same scene, which didn’t really work for me.

I am glad that the sexual content in the book is not demurely skimmed over. For the reader to believe in Vee and Nathan’s dizzyingly intense romance, we have to believe they are attracted to each other. They’re young and have been isolated for so long, it would be unrealistic for them not to want to jump each other’s bones. Especially considering that they’re married. Their romance is the central part of the book, at the expense of the sci-fi element – a shame in my eyes, because what we do get to see of the futuristic world is intriguing enough.

There are some things I liked about this book, but I only managed to finish it because I was shadowing the YA Book Prize. It was easier going in the back half, where the plot picked up a little, but most of the book is flat characters delivering cringe-worthily clunky dialogue. (Seriously, here’s an example: “And weren’t those the words from a poem used in the late twentieth-century film Dead Poets Society starring Robin Williams?” Just trying saying that sentence out loud.) Nathan and Vee’s chemistry was not convincing enough for me to get swept up in their romance, or to ignore the fact that Nathan’s idea of consent is sketchy at best. I really wanted to like Chasing the Stars, and I hope other readers get something out of it, but I think I’ll stick to Noughts & Crosses, and/or the actual works of William Shakespeare. (Though I still need to read Hagseed, Margaret Atwood’s spin on The Tempest!)

What I Read in March

Spring update, continued. March is the best month: it has my birthday, International Women’s Day, World Book Day, Crufts, and, this year, London Book Fair! Also, I read some books, which I’m sure you’re just dying to hear my opinions on, so let’s get to that:

25458747TRUTH OR DARE by Non Pratt – A new Non book is a veritable event, and I was delighted to get a proof of this, a tale of tragedy, YouTube, and unlikely romance. Predictably brilliant but brilliantly unpredictable. When it comes to contemporary YA, Non Pratt is truly one of the best. (Proper review to come closer to publication date!)

coverHOMEGOING by Yaa Gyasi – Epic in scale, this sweeping novel follows seven generations of family, beginning with two half-sisters in eighteen century Ghana. Homegoing is unflinching in its portrayal of the horrors of slavery, and the continuing weight of that history. As might be expected, it’s difficult to hear at times, but it is luminous and compelling as anything I’ve ever read. The way the ties between ancestor and descendant stretch but never snap is an almost elementally powerful concept, and Gyasi successfully juggles fourteen separate voices living very different lives whilst making sure their stories are woven together subtly but effectively, making the novel more than a sum of its parts. Homegoing is brilliant and unforgettable, and I can’t wait to see what Gyasi does next.

25699515ORANGEBOY by Patrice Lawrence – I loved this tough, pacy YA novel, and… so did everyone else! I’m so pleased to see Patrice being handed accolades left right and centre. Marlon is a (mostly) sweet kid who gets caught up in his older brother’s world of gangs and danger when an innocent date at the fair ends badly. This is quite unlike a lot of contemporary YA I’ve read, but a good way, with the plot keeping me anxiously turning pages until the end. Marlon is a very likeable main character, even as he keeps making decisions you know aren’t going to work out for him. The supporting characters are great too, and the librarian mum is a fine addition to the growing canon of actually-present-and-parenting YA parents.

the_jungleTHE JUNGLE by Pooja Puri – The inaugural title of new YA imprint Ink Road, Pooja Puri’s debut had a fair amount riding on it. That’s without considering the heavy subject matter. The Jungle is a YA novel about the Calais refugee and migrant encampment. The writing is understatedly lovely, and the depiction of the situation these people have found themselves in – its essential, inhumane unfairness – is deftly done. I would have liked to know more about the characters’ backgrounds, but perhaps the point is that now they are in the Jungle, they are seen as residents of the Jungle, not as whoever they were in the past. The twists and turns the plot takes are unexpected, and Pooja avoids writing an easy narrative. Overall, this is a story that will make you think, without the get-out of a neat resolution.

CHASINGTHESTARS_9780857531414_JKTCHASING THE STARS by Malorie Blackman – I DNF’ed this when I first tried to read it. It had such an excellent pitch – Othello in space! Othello is a black teenage girl! – but I’m not sure it ever lived up to it. Longer review to come as part of my YA Book Prize shadowing.

33016783THE ESSEX SERPENT by Sarah Perry – Newly widowed Cora Seaborne moves to Essex and hears the tale of the Essex Serpent, rumoured to be terrorising the parish of Aldwinter. Will Ransome, man of the cloth, has no truck with the tall tales of mythical creatures, but that’s only one thing of many he finds to disagree over with Cora. It took me some time to get into this, but once I was in, I was in ALL THE WAY. What a big, sexy, clever, lovely book. It’s about the monsters of love and desire… and also science, socialism, sensation. I couldn’t wait to get back to Aldwinter every time I went back to the book. Every character feels like a friend, and I miss them already.

Top Ten Tuesday: series I haven’t finished

TTT

As ever, Top Ten Tuesday is created and developed by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s theme: SERIES WE HAVEN’T FINISHED YET.

  1. Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman
    Why haven’t I read this? I should really read this. I read the first one more or less when it came out in in the early 2000s, but never finished the series because I was obviously a HUGE LOSER who made TERRIBLE CHOICES. (Nothing’s changed, then.)
  2. Wind on Fire trilogy by William Nicholson
    Again, I started this series as a child. I have no idea if it’s worth picking up again. Is it any good? SOMEONE TELL ME WHAT TO READ.
  3. Remnants by K.A. Applegate
    If you know me (or listen to my podcast) you’ll know what a vocal Animorphs fan I am. I also love K.A. Applegate’s fantasy series Everworld, and I’m pretty sure I’d love Remnants if I ever got round to reading it all. I’ve been thinking of doing a readalong/recap series here on the blog actually…
  4. Exodus by Julie Bertagna
    I’ve read Exodus and it was pretty good. I picked up Zenith in the library book sale a few months ago. Whether I’ll actually ever read it or not is a different thing.
  5. Millennium series by Stieg Larsson
    I’ve only just read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire. I’d been planning to stop there, as I’d been told that The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest wasn’t much good, but then THAT ENDING! I have to continue. And there’s a fourth now, too.
  6. Night School by C.J. Daugherty
    C.J. Daugherty seems to be at every YA event I go to, and every time I hear her talk I think “Man, C.J. is so cool.” I’m finally reading the first Night School book and I have no idea why I waited so long to pick it up! I’m a sucker for boarding school hijinks and rich kids and murder. I’m delighted Night School is finished now so I can swallow it all up at whatever pace I like.
  7. Dollanganger series by V.C. Andrews
    I read Flowers in the Attic earlier this year. I read it while eating McDonalds. It was a spectacular cultural experience! I’m… probably not going to read any more of the series.
  8. Yu-Gi-Oh! Millennium World by Kazuki Takahashi
    I own this whole series and I am 100% into that Ancient Egyptian card game life, I’ve just never ever sat and read these seven volumes of manga. Yu-Gi-Oh! is so good, okay.
  9. xxxHolic by Clamp
    I’ve read all of the glorious mess that is Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle but I never finished xxxHolic. xxxHolic is a totally different beast and I am intrigued by it and should probably finish it. Maybe it’s time to get back into manga? Incidentally, the anime series’ opening song is a proper bop – here’s a Youtube link.
  10. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
    I loved Code Name Verity, but I only read it last month. I need time for the emotional dust to settle before I pick up Rose Under Fire.

Have you read any of these series? Have you abandoned any? Are you as confused by me talking about manga as I am? Let me know in the comments!