My thirteen-year-old daughter is a book worm. She’s like her mom, willing to fully immerse herself in a story, to dip down deep into imagined worlds and let the lyric of language and setting carry her away from what has been a difficult adolescence so far. Still, I don’t dictate to her what books to read. She’ll ask for an opinion and I’ll offer mine and then she settles her mind on “yay” or “nay.” Normally, my recommendations are received and she disappears for a few days, huddled under her blankets, ignoring the world as she reads. Just like I did. Just like I still do.
So when I mentioned to her a new book I was reading, she curiously asked for details. It’s Young Adult. It’s SciFi and it tells the story of a misfit girl who tries to do what’s right, for all those concerned. Immediately, she was interested because she loves genre fiction and, she said, the girl “sounds just like me.” When I told her that the author of the novel happened to be a friend of mine, that curiosity morphed into something close to a compulsion. Luckily, my kid thinks writers are cool. Luckily, I haven’t breached the point of embarrassing her just yet. (Though, that time is coming, I assure you.)
Nevertheless, she insisted on our reading Starglass together. And so we did, spending a good chunk of the day huddled over my Kindle, stopping only for bathroom breaks and a few quick explanations of certain words and phrases.
Terra, Phoebe North’s protagonist, is just like my daughter—artistic, awkward, sincere, intent on trying her best to make her family happy. She’s a pleaser, or at least she tries to be, something my young teenager can relate to.
There are, however, differences. Terra lives on a generation ship, the Asherah. She is from a future where an asteroid has eradicated Earth and the Post-terrestrial Jewish Preservation Society funds the Asherah to take their people to a new world, Zehava (though the journey will take 500 years).
Terra lives in a culture steeped in control and conformity. There is no diverting from that conformity and when you are awkward, curious and compelled, diverting from societal norms is expected.
Children are thrust into adulthood at sixteen. They are expected to choose an occupation and give serious consideration to finding their “bashert,” or soul-mate. That becomes a sticking point for Terra who is pulled between a boy who seems perfect on paper, but who isn’t really right for her, and one she has been asked to kill.
North has set Sci-Fi on its heels, interlacing common tropes that are not at all common—no natural births; children are grown and hatched in the ship’s hatchery; DNA of plants and animals from Earth are frozen in anticipation of their new home on Zehava and the clock keepers monitor seasons and sleep patterns. But if readers are expecting a typical science fiction novel, they will be disappointed. This isn’t a story solely focused on the mechanics of a space odyssey. It isn’t as simple as that. Starglass weaves a pattern of mystery, of growth into each line, into each conflict and the result is a thick tapestry of elegant prose that befits Terra’s journey from awkward, slightly timid teen, to a young woman who risks and makes no apologies for that risk. Staring at center stage is North’s beautiful language that hints of the literary while still respecting the Sci-Fi genre:
We spoke less and less. After dark, my father disappeared to the pubs or into his room with a glass and a bottle. I avoided home as best I could. Every night, I took off for the dome. I stayed there until it was too dark to see, filling my sketchbook with rough images of the flowers that occupied my daylight hours. It was better outside, even in the cold. Because within the gray walls of our quarters, silence had become a constant companion. It sat beside us at breakfast and laid itself down between me and Pepper late at night.
But not when Koen was around. He stopped by for supper at least once a week, filling the empty chasm of our lives with his broadlipped smile, his awkward laughter, his questions for my father, his jokes for me. Abba was a different person when Koen was there. He sat straighter and spoke in a tone that was almost mild. He rarely angered and when he did, it was only ever at me and quick to pass. But I did my best to give him few reasons to be mad. Usually, I just listened while he and Koen discussed their duties.”
For full disclosure, I should mention that I read one of the earliest drafts of this novel a couple of years ago when I was a part of North’s writer’s group, The Interrobangs. What I thought back then was that Terra was a character not so different from her creator. She was wise, determined and fiercely compelled to change her life. The manuscript I read then wasn’t perfect, but the bones were good and I knew that this would be a story that the world would soon see and love.
I realize now that the past two years have been generous to North and to her story. Her prose is stronger, her world building is solid and unique and Starglass has grown into a wonderfully imagined, expertly crafted novel.
It is an amazing experience watching from the shadows, seeing someone you respect and love grow in their craft, watching them elevate something beautiful that they have created into a piece of art. Terra’s journey, North’s as well, has been arduous, littered with struggle, but it is one that reflects individual growth and the results that are achieved when one works harder, when one refuses to back down against obstacle after obstacle.
Starglass captures the imagination. It takes the reader on a journey, one filled with fear and compassion and refuses to relinquish its hold, until the very last image has readers clamoring for what the final chapter of Terra’s journey will entail. Or, as my daughter said when our reading was complete, “Mom, I want to live in this book. I want to live in this book so badly.”
About the Author
Phoebe North spent the first twenty-two years of her life in New Jersey, where she lugged countless library books home to read in the bathtub, at the dinner table, in front of the television, and under the blankets with a flashlight when she should have been asleep.
After college, Phoebe went south, enrolling in the University of Florida’s MFA program to study poetry. But after studying children’s literature with kidlit scholars (and geniuses) Kenneth Kidd and John Cech, she started writing books about magic, robots and aliens for teenagers. And realized she loved it almost as much as she loved Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
Now, Phoebe lives in New York State with her husband, and many licensed novels. She likes to cook, watch Degrassi, sew, take her cat for walks, and, of course, write. Despite many soaked pages, she still loves to read in the bath.