By Stephanie Parent
Publisher: Stephanie Parent
Pub. Date: July 30th, 2012
Age Level: YA (14+)
Source: For review from author
Synopsis via Goodreads
Julia Cape: A dedicated classical piano student just trying to get through her last semester of high school while waiting to hear from music conservatories.
Reed MacAllister: A slacker more likely to be found by the stoners’ tree than in class.
Julia and Reed might have graduated high school without ever speaking to each other…until, during a class discussion of Romeo and Juliet, Julia scoffs at the play’s theme of love at first sight, and Reed responds by arguing that feelings don’t always have to make sense. Julia tries to shake off Reed’s comment and forget about this boy who hangs with the stoner crowd—and who happens to have breathtaking blue eyes—but fate seems to bring the two together again and again. After they share an impulsive, passionate kiss, neither one can deny the chemistry between them. Yet as Julia gets closer to Reed, she also finds herself drawn into his dark world of drugs and violence. Then a horrific tragedy forces Julia’s and Reed’s families even farther apart…and Julia must decide whether she’s willing to give up everything for love.
Defy the Stars is written in an edgy free-verse style that will appeal to fans of Ellen Hopkins and Lisa Schroeder; however, the writing is accessible enough to speak to non-verse fans as well. The novel’s combination of steamy romance and raw emotion will appeal to fans of Gayle Forman, Simone Elkeles, Jennifer Echols, and Tammara Webber. With a story, language and form that both pay homage to and subvert Shakespeare’s play, Defy the Stars is much more than just another Romeo and Juliet story.
You know how every now and again you pick up a book and, for one reason or another, you really really hope that you like it? This was one of those books for me as I was reading it with plans to review it for the author, Stephanie Parent, who is a twitter buddy of mine. Having read her short story, I was pretty optimistic but still, no one likes having to write a negative review of a book for an author they like. So thankfully, even though it started out a little rough around the edges, Defy the Stars turned out to be quite a gem. I'm going to try my best to express all of my feelings about this book without giving away too much of the plot, as I feel this is one of those books where you don't want to know too much going in, especially since, well, you kind of already do. A consequence of being a retelling of an epic love story.
What I loved so much about the characters that Parent created, more specifically, Reed and Julia, was how realistic, flawed, and innately human they were. Their emotions were raw and tinged with the extreme passion with which teenagers tend to feel things at that age. Every now and again, Julia's mind would take off on this rambling train
There was a small cast of supporting characters that accompanied our star-crossed lovers. First there was Perry the pervert. He was one of the more active minor characters, unfortunately. Oh my goodness I just hated him so much! This may sound bad, but I was really hoping he'd end up dead by the end of the book. Or maimed for life. Either one. Sara, Julia's best friend, was a character that I felt rather indifferent towards, as was the case with most of the supporting characters. There was, however, one time when she really left my mouth gaping wide open with disbelief and that was when Julia decided to tell her everything. I would have liked to have seen a little more concern for her best friend than what she showed. Toby, Julia's cousin who was more like an uncle, was a good supporting character that I would have liked to have seen more of. Other characters were Julia's parents, her piano instructor, Reed's friend that I can't remember the name of but I remember liking, Reed's brother Cary, and last, and least in my book, Rachel a character that I absolutely didn't see the point in. I would have liked a little more involvement and depth from the supporting characters than I got but considering the nature of this story, it didn't really bother me all that much.
Defy the Stars had so much to offer in the way of its plot. First off, it was utterly compelling and almost impossible to put down. There was just something about it that kept me constantly wanting to turn the next page, or in my case, click the page-turning button on my kindle. And the emotion, oh there were so many emotions jam-packed into this story and its characters, all of which felt genuine and masterfully rendered. As far as retellings go, this is my favorite and my mind made a game of finding and drawing all the parallels between this book and Romeo & Juliet. As you might have already guessed, this was far from a light read as it contained some very serious subject matter, the forefront of which was drugs. I thought Parent handled the integration of drugs into her story quite skillfully. From Julia's lack of understanding of the seriousness of the situation, to the detailed highs and lows that came with doing meth, to the inevitable consequences that would follow. There was nothing 'encouraging' in the way Parent wrote about the use of drugs, it managed to avoid being preachy in any way, and was also very purposefully wound in with the plot, versus just being there for the sake of edginess. Yet, for all the severity and harsh, cold truth that was woven throughout, so was hope and the preciousness of life and love. The musical incorporation of Julia's piano playing really brought to life a certain atmosphere for the story that I thought was lovely and provided a sense of balance with the other aspects of the plot. All of this bled together with romance and tragedy to create quite an intense and darkly enticing story.
When I first began reading Defy the Stars, I admit, I questioned Parent's decision to do it as a verse book. I absolutely love books written in verse, but something felt...stilted about the writing and format, not seeming to have much reason behind it other than for the sake of saying it was in verse. However, there would then be these bits of brilliance, where everything seemed to make sense and the writing flowed on smoothly. The further in I delved, the more common these moments became throughout the writing and it all started to pull together and level out as the organization of the prose began to show purpose. Once it did, it was beautiful!
Let's not pretend that we don't all know how Romeo and Juliet's story ends, which lends to the fact that I had no expectations for a happy ending with this story. I mean, let's face it, this isn't a story you retell with an ending that's all fluffernutter and rainbows. But that didn't stop me from wanting everything to work out for Julia and Reed, even though I knew, deep down, that there was no way it could. Of course, Defy the Stars is merely a retelling, and with a title like that, you can't help but expect Parent to have given herself some wiggle room. This meant that I couldn't be sure how Julia and Reed's story would end. That said, I thought Stephanie did a remarkable job on the ending. It was tearfully bittersweet in its harmony of both tragedy and hope, something I feel can be said about the book as a whole, too, not just the ending.
Characters: Main characters realistically flawed and well developed. Supporting characters, rather lacking.
Writing: A little inconsistent but beautiful overall.
Plot: Refreshing, compelling, and gritty.
Enjoyment/Likability: Couldn't put it down...so yeah...
Recommendable: Definitely! Even for those who aren't big fans of verse.
Overall: An amazing and emotionally raw retelling of Romeo and Juliet. Best $0.99 you'll ever spend.
Cover: I like the colors. It's pretty but nothing spectacular.