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cover of These Broken Stars with a white girl in a green dress and a white boy in a black shirt falling through a sky of stars and reaching out for one another

It's a night like any other on board the Icarus. Then, catastrophe strikes: the massive luxury spaceliner is yanked out of hyperspace and plummets into the nearest planet. Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen survive. And they seem to be alone.

Lilac is the daughter of the richest man in the universe. Tarver comes from nothing, a young war hero who learned long ago that girls like Lilac are more trouble than they’re worth. But with only each other to rely on, Lilac and Tarver must work together, making a tortuous journey across the eerie, deserted terrain to seek help.

Then, against all odds, Lilac and Tarver find a strange blessing in the tragedy that has thrown them into each other’s arms. Without the hope of a future together in their own world, they begin to wonder—would they be better off staying here forever?

Everything changes when they uncover the truth behind the chilling whispers that haunt their every step. Lilac and Tarver may find a way off this planet. But they won’t be the same people who landed on it. (source)

I love when my social media folks give me surprise recommendations that I love. Pretty sure I owe [ profile] fozmeadows for this one. I had completely forgotten about this book until her recommendation.

This book reminded of of all the contemporary romances I read as a teenager with bonus SF elements. These Broken Stars is the first book in the loosely connected Starbound trilogy. Tarver, a very young war hero who earned rank through military action and Lilac, the daughter of the head of LaRoux Industries, get thrown together when the spaceship falls out of hyperspace.

They're saved by Lilac's rebel engineering skills and their escape pod rams into a unknown planet. Tarver and Lilac, at odds due to Lilac's determination to be an asshole to all men because of ~mysterious~ reasons she convinced will save their lives, have to survive and seek out rescue. With their communications systems destroyed and hoping for a miracle, they make their way to the utter wreckage of their spaceship on a terraformed planet that shouldn't even be there. They handle the wildlife, the weather, Lilac attempting a multi-day hike in heels, and also Lilac hearing eerie voices. Best camping trip ever!

For some reason I thought there was going to be more romance-in-space happening, but it's not really in space. Space is just the glue that sticks Tarver and Lilac together and hurtles them toward their ~destiny~. This reminded me of a wilderness adventure story. There's a lot of roughing it, a lot of walking, tons of post traumatic stress, and disembodied voices in the shadows. It was probably only scary because I find woods inherently terrifying at night, but yeah, I totally turned on extra lights. I learned my lesson from House of Leaves.

75% of this book is angst. The majority of it comes from Lilac, not Tarver, who is pretty well-adjusted and calm until the last quarter of the novel. Congratulations, book! You surprised me. Tarver and Lilac were a great match. I was rooting for them for the very beginning, through all the snark and yelling and wild rescues and slow development of trust. I didn't expect to like Tarver, because I am coldhearted and unyielding to the boys and men in YA fiction a lot of the time because I find them unbearable. But he was really fantastic, a solid support for Lilac. He never attempts to undermine her or make her feel broken or useless.

Although I liked Lilac's sections of the book more than Tarver's, the quick hits of the interrogation between the alternating chapters were where he really shines. The book really subverts the insolent, asshole trope by showing us Tarver when he's presenting a front to the world, and then showing us the Tarver who just wants to keep himself and Lilac alive. They're both hugely self-sacrificing. It's pretty adorable.

This book is either doing some really fascinating things or else I am just reading too much into the narrative, as I am wont to do when I latch on to something I love. The amount of parental control here is scary. Lilac's friends are people set by her father to watch her or bodyguards hired to protect her. Her freedom is limited, even among so-called peers, and the autonomy is nonexistent. There's a scene in the beginning of the book where Lilac, spurred on by her flock of friends because she knows they'll rat her out, viciously cuts Tarver down for daring to want to spend time with her. And perhaps it would be less affecting if I hadn't been on the receiving end of that sort of peer pressure, where there's something you want to do, someone you want to reach out to, but social necessity and severe personal consequences won't let you. Hello, all the cute girls I could have been making out with over the years! I'm sorry I was a dick to you just because my friends didn't like you/were scared of associating with lesbians. D:

This made me think about children as property, which is apt given how Lilac frames herself and her relationship to her father throughout the novel. Lilac's father is extremely rich, powerful, and expects to control all his assets, including his daughter. Initially Lilac excuses this abusive behavior to herself as his fear of losing her as he lost her mother (tragic dead mother backstory: check). As the story unfolds its clear that it's not simply the desire to be protection, but the desire to control Lilac's life, and through a carefully explained plot-line later, her sexuality (WHAT A JERK).

The way the story builds up Lilac's past with her father made me go "wow, this is a great big honking metaphor about the patriarchal control of young girls and women and their bodies/agency!" This is especially stark once Lilac crashes on the planet and is removed from the carefully cultivated environment orchestrated by her father. The trappings of her life unravel and leave her ill-prepared to deal with them until she begins to trust her own instincts. Lilac's time on this planet that doesn't properly exist (much like her agency doesn't exist; buried, hidden by oppressive male authority) is also an exploration of her inner self; relying on her own strengths; making her own decisions about her future; and coming into a better understand of her father as a flawed person.

Creepy enough as that thread is, there's a larger big bad lurking in the shadows in the form of corporate greed. There's quite a few different ways to look at it; evil corporations are nothing new. But I liked the point that the book makes through the sections where Tarver is being interrogated. The business cares about the bottom line, the cost, and their investments — Lilac is clearly marked as one — instead of the health and wellness of a survivor.

Greed, power, and arrogance drives them, and it aligns extremely well with real-world instances of all the oppression and suffering that people are experiencing at the hands of companies that have profit as a goal, especially young people who've inherited an economic mess. This book does not provide a very rosy view of powerful companies and their priorities with regards to people and humanitarian behavior. It's very pessimistic about the worth of huge companies and the industry machine who abuse their workers or other people in their climb to the tip (i.e. set them on fire with explosions and let them burn, no great loss).

The book also raises the question I hated most from my philosophy classes about what makes a person the same person they were before some kind of catastrophic event — their body or their memories. I had so many screaming debates with friends about this with diagrams included (and at one notable debate, when a professor joined our discussion, called him a pretentious gasbag...yeah, I'm super classy). We were totally those annoying freshman having loud philosophical discussions about the integrity of memory, how energy couldn't be destroyed but only redistributed, and what cloning really means for personhood in the middle of the cafeteria or library lobby. I wish I could give this book to my younger self; she would have obsessed.

Definitely a fun, thinky ride. I'm a little disappointed that the next book in the trilogy is about a different set of characters, but I will hope for a tiny cameo/name drop from the authors just so I know Tarver and Lilac are doing okay (THEY BETTER BE DOING OKAY, AUTHORS.).

I want there to be fanfic of Lilac getting hired by a rival industry to build sexy interstellar ships and teaching Tarver how to hotwire hotrod spaceships. Can that be a thing now? Because I'm so there.

Other reviews:
The Book Smugglers, yours?

Date: 2014-04-12 11:23 am (UTC)
bookgazing: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bookgazing
This sounds so cool!

Date: 2014-05-06 01:34 am (UTC)
carolinarose: Belle 'with her nose stuck in a book' (beauty's books)
From: [personal profile] carolinarose
I read this book recently (although I had to take a huge break near the end with the whole Lilac thing) and really loved it. (Also the cover is so pretty.) But WHAT - THE NEXT BOOK IS ABOUT OTHER CHARACTERS?!!! I did not know that. I thought it was going to continue with Lilac's wacky energy life force thing and showdowns with her dad and whatnot. I was prepared for bitter tears and her having to rescue Tarver before her dad gets rid of him and so on. Geez.

(I just discovered your blog here and it's lovely, thanks!)


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