Dow manages to craft a delightful and hopeful story while never once shying away from heavier topics like racism, apathy, and mental health. The Sound of Stars is a shining example of YA at its best.
Rating: 4.25 Stars
The Advanced Reader Copy for this novel was sent to me by the publisher at my request. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this review are completely my own and not influenced in anyway. This post contains affiliate links.
The Sound of Stars
Author: Alechia Dow
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Release Date: February 25, 2020
Synopsis: Can a girl who risks her life for books and an alien who loves forbidden pop music work together to save humanity?
Two years ago, a misunderstanding between the leaders of Earth and the invading Ilori resulted in the deaths of one-third of the world’s population.
Seventeen-year-old Janelle “Ellie” Baker survives in an Ilori-controlled center in New York City. Deemed dangerously volatile because of their initial reaction to the invasion, humanity’s emotional transgressions are now grounds for execution. All art, books and creative expression are illegal, but Ellie breaks the rules by keeping a secret library. When a book goes missing, Ellie is terrified that the Ilori will track it back to her and kill her.
Born in a lab, M0Rr1S (Morris) was raised to be emotionless. When he finds Ellie’s illegal library, he’s duty-bound to deliver her for execution. The trouble is, he finds himself drawn to human music and in desperate need of more. They’re both breaking the rules for love of art—and Ellie inspires the same feelings in him that music does.
Ellie’s—and humanity’s—fate rests in the hands of an alien she should fear. M0Rr1S has a lot of secrets, but also a potential solution—thousands of miles away. The two embark on a wild and dangerous road trip with a bag of books and their favorite albums, all the while making a story and a song of their own that just might save them both.
There is a lot of discourse these days about who YA is being written for right now. I’m a 30ish year old reading YA and while I love a lot of what is coming out of the YA realm, I know that really, I should not be the target audience. YA as a “genre” (I know it’s not a genre, but let’s just roll with this okay) is losing its identity. And while there is no one way to fix that, there are some books emerging in 2020 that I feel are bringing YA back to what it should be: books for teens that exhibit the teen experience. The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow is one of those books.
Dow focuses The Sound of Stars on two teens: Janelle “Ellie” Baker, a human who rebels against the invading Ilori by distributing banned books from her secret library, and M0Rr1S (who shall now be referred to as Morris cause I am not typing that half caps, some number name thing. I’m sorry, but it bothers me to type that way), an Ilori with more secrets than just his love of human music. Ellie is everything a YA main character should be: diverse in many ways. She is not the “perfect”, skinny, white, powerful chosen one. She is REAL. And wow do I appreciate that about her. Ellie’s experiences in life are different from my own and that’s what I want to read. Reading is about experiencing the world through another’s view. Morris is the ultimate cinnamon roll soft boi and I just want to give him access to my whole music collection (that is not a euphemism).
What really stands out the most with Ellie is the way she sees the world, both before and after the Ilori invasion. I mean, the book starts with the following: “The invasion came when we were too distracted raging against our governments to notice. Terror had a face and we elected it, my mom said. We were more divided than ever, and that division made our defeat easy.” Like, damn. The Sound of Stars does not pull any punches in calling out some of the realities of our currently broken society. This book perfectly skates the line of politically charged and a delightful (and sometimes cheesy) teen romance.
Oh, and let’s jump into that romance real quick. This is one of those books that I wish I could have read as a teen Ellie is still learning a lot about who she is and how that affects her relationships, attractions, and sexuality. And while I typically am not a fan of “I meet you this week and I’ll already die for you” romances, it just works in this story. Ellie even calls out their growing feelings as a cheesy trope and this is the kind of meta stuff I live for. Both Morris and Ellie are so young and hopeful and I can’t help but root for them to get together, even though there were some incredibly cheesy moments. I just smiled and moved on, eager to see what these crazy kids would end up. It is easy, as an adult reading YA, to critique a novel because we don’t believe or like the youthful romance, but that’s not how it should be. Just smile and nod at the happy kids in love and leave them alone to figure out their relationship.
I quickly want to point out that if you are one of those readers that hates pop culture references in a story, this is probably not a great book for you. While it’s not “over done”, the references are scattered throughout the entirety of the book. This really shouldn’t be a surprise considering the heavy focus on books and pop music in the synopsis, but I know some people just really don’t mesh with pop culture references in a story. I, personally, loved it. There was even a Six of Crows reference and I just about lost my damn mind when I saw it. Dow integrates the references smoothly and while some may go over people’s head, it doesn’t detract from the story.
My main issues with the story would fall mostly in how easy certain troubles were solved and the clunky world building. I never got the greatest sense for how the world is working under the invasion and how the Ilori truly kept control. We humans are very violent and I just feel like there would be more fight in us. I also had issues getting a good sense for what the world looked like, and considering this is set on Earth, that is kind of a problem. The writing was focused just on the exact spot our characters were in, and nothing around it. I could never really get an idea of how Dow wanted the world to look like in the confines of her story.
The ending is what I think will be very polarizing for people. I am of two minds with the ending. On one hand, I found the big twist too easy and part of it seemed completely contrived. On the other hand, I don’t care and it was kinda fun and I’m completely intrigued with where the story can go. Dow managed to bring a pretty out there concept down to the story and while the execution is a little shaky, the entertainment is there.
The Sound of Stars is a return to true YA form: the characters are realistic teens with realistic teen feelings and there is a great focus on hope. Yes, this story explores some not great aspects of humanity, but it never stops hoping. It never stops persevering and it never stops having fun. I look forward to continuing the story of Ellie and Morris.