Crescent Star by Nicholas Maes
Pub. Date: February 21st, 2011
Age Level: 13+
Source: For review from publisher.
Synopsis via Goodreads
Avi Greenbaum is Jewish and lives in West Jerusalem. Moussa Shakir is Palestinian and lives in East Jerusalem. Both are 15 years old, live without their fathers, adore their older brothers, and belong to the same soccer club. Avi commemorates the Holocaust and celebrates Israeli independence, while Moussa mourns on Nakba Day, marking the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes and land in 1948. Their lives are parallel lines: they have everything in common and nothing at all. Each is oblivious to the other's existence.
As Avi and Moussa go about their daily routines in the spring of 2006, they face reminders of the conflict that has dogged the region for the past three generations; the security wall, suicide bombings, police operations, and the looming shadow of war. While navigating this legacy of suspicion and violence, they must decide what their own roles in the stalemate will be.
I'm one of those people who's always been drawn to books involving a war setting, whether there is active engagement in said war or not. For some reason, even when I was younger, I've always liked reading about war, watching movies and shows about war, etc. So, when I was presented with the chance to read a YA book set in Jerusalem, involving the Arab-Israeli conflict, I jumped at the chance. Sadly, it would appear I jumped too soon...
Avi and Moussa were characters that I had very little connection with. No, this has nothing to do with their race/culture/heritage. My problem was that both characters felt two-dimensional and were lacking in both personality and substance. All I really got was fear from Avi and indifference/lack of expected anger from Moussa. To me, the author was so wrapped up and focused on drawing parallels between the lives of the two boys that he didn't take enough time to work on, and develop, the characters individually. There was also what seemed to be some contradiction. During Avi and Moussa's separate interviews with a reporter, I could see where the author was trying to portray them as being regular teen boys, especially when it came to interests. However, both boys also mentioned how they felt everything in their life revolved around politics. Never did either boy feel real or like a typical teenager who just happens to live in an area of conflict. The politics of it all was brought into light more but I would have liked to have seen each boy doing more normal things: hanging out with friends, struggling with a problem unrelated to the war, etc. Also, I didn't find one single thoroughly fleshed out relationship between either of the protagonists and a family member, friend, teacher or even potential girlfriend; I only got mere glimpses of these. If there was going to be so minor a focus on such aspects then I would have preferred to read about characters actually participating in the war. Instead, I got this really awkward, insubstantial between. All of that said, the characters weren't necessarily unlikable and I did like getting to see both of their perspectives on their own, and the other's, situation. What little personality I got from each of them did feel real and both Avi's feelings of fear, and Moussa's worry he's not angry enough, were tangible and believable. But that was about it.
My issues with the plot are essentially the same issues I had with the characters. Once again, more attention was dedicated to showing how parallel two boys' lives could be on different sides of the same war. Crescent Star had so much potential and there were times when I would come across a part of the book that could have fulfilled that potential but didn't. My prime example: When Avi and his band went to England for a competition. This event took up so few pages of the book and went by so quickly, with little more than some nasty, uncalled for remarks from some outspoken, overly opinionated Brits and other national competitors. Avi went to so many places in England and I barely got to read about any of his experiences there. It wasn't all bad though. Maes provided me with a clear, unblemished window that I could peer into from either side. A window that, through two opposing, biased perspectives, allowed me to receive an unbiased view into the Arab-Israeli conflict. Maes never made me feel like I should choose one side over the other, and I believe he did both sides justice. Crescent Star also proved to be very thought-provoking as well by incorporating the occasional outsider's opinion. It made me think: Are the Arabs and Israeli's unable to see what is an obvious solution because they are too involved and muddled up in it themselves to see clearly? Or do we only think that there is an easy answer, or many, because we are so wholly removed from the conflict, and thus possess a cloudy view as to the complexities of the problem and the possible repercussions of said 'solutions'?
Keeping in pattern, the writing was also something I had mixed feelings about. As a whole, it was far from bad but not what I'd call great. The pacing was consistent and even and I felt pulled in by the writing shortly after starting Crescent Star. Maes also seamlessly incorporated in a plethora of Hebrew and Arabic terms. While I did have to visit the Glossary for some of these, the presence of the words themselves never felt forced. My problems with it? First of all, when I read a book set in an unfamiliar location, I want the descriptions to be so vivid and expertly depicted that, when I've turned the last page and set the book aside, I feel like I can still see the setting painted before me in my mind, almost as though I'd been there myself. I didn't get this. Another thing, and this is getting back to the parallels, I wasn't long into the book when I noticed that I would find two passages almost identical with the only differences being a few minor alterations and presentation from a different point of view. At first, I thought this was an effective, profound technique that helped to elaborate on how both boys could so closely feel and experience the same things. It could have stayed that way too had it not been implemented so frequently to the point of redundancy, leaving me with a near constant feeling of having read multiple passages twice.
Concerning the ending, I feel this aspect of the book is where I have the least amount to discuss. This is because I still have no idea what I thought of it. I'm finding myself both approving of it and frowning at it for the very same reasons. One thing that did stand out to me as something I liked was the view point from which the very final pages were told, a view point that was not Avi or Moussa's.
All in all, I obviously didn't enjoy Crescent Star nearly as much as I had hoped. Mind you, I don't think this book was a waste of time at all, I even liked it somewhat, and it did hold it's redeeming qualities. As far as the story and overall plot goes, it was underdeveloped and fell short of the potential. While it does have two fifteen-year-old protagonists, I do question the choice to market this book as YA. Personally, I believe this book would fit a little more comfortably in with the adult category due to its more analytical/intellectual nature (and I'm by no means saying YA can't be intellectual) and lack of components I come to expect from YA. I do feel that Crescent Star would be excellent for a Contemporary World Issues class to read and discuss in-depth, as well as other such similar classes, or even a book club. This is definitely a debate-and-talk-about-it book and for such purposes as being able to view the Arab-Israeli conflict from both sides equally, I would recommend this. For anyone looking for a good coming-of-age story to read concerning two teenage boys dealing with living in a disaster torn area, I would not recommend this. This is one of those rare books that I think I would have actually liked more had I read it for the purpose of required reading for a class.
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Thursday, August 4, 2011
Crescent Star by Nicholas Maes
Posted by ~The Book Pixie at 8/04/2011 10:21:00 AM