*This review will contain spoilers!*
First things first, I need to say a huge thank you to Hot Key Books for accepting my request to view this title on NetGalley, and to NetGalley for the service that they provide.
'That night, I walked up the wobbly footbridge-in-progress, rolling my bike next to me until I stood in front of the abandoned observatory, rain leaking from the yellow rain slicker into my slightly-too-small hiking boots. What a shame that this was my night to be solo beneath the stars: I could barely see them.'So many important aspects of the plot are introduced in this sentence: Carrie's position of the outsider orbiting her friendship group, her love of astrophysics and the footbridge that she'll soon be dedicating her summer to completing.
This prologue actually takes place midway through the book, so it neatly splits the novel into before and after sections, something I always appreciate. It's nice to have the context of the scene slowly revealed to you.
I don't really know how to sum up this book, because it's about so many things.
The focus is definitely on family. Carrie's sister, Ginny, dies, and her mother leaves home to go to a meditation retreat to learn to deal with that fact. Carrie's left with her little sister and her father, both of whom don't seem to respect her at all because of all the mistakes she made while acting out after Ginny's death.
Her father signs her up for a minimum wage summer job creating a footpath at the local observatory - the observatory that's been closed since Ginny's death - and Carrie sees it as the ultimate punishment. Every day she dons her shitkickers and her hard hat and rides her bike down the Avenue of the Pines, trying not to let her eyes wander to the white cross affixed to a tree in remembrance of Ginny.
Carrie isn't interested in the work at all. She's derisive of all of her co-workers, not genuinely believing that any of them can be there willingly, and she's standoffish to their group leader, Lynn. She keeps herself to herself, listening to her Walkman and doodling lyrics in her notebook, as well as trying to track the progress of the Vira comet that should be coming into view within the next couple of weeks.
All Carrie cares about is music and astrophysics, until she meets her new next door neighbour, Dean.
'His name was Dean. He had long hair. He played drums. He know how to fix bikes. Had there ever lived a more promising creature?'Dealing with loss, redemption, forgiveness, family and first love, 'Lost Stars' is a cleverly woven tale about a lot of different aspects of teenage life.
First of all, I loved the soundtrack. 'Lost Stars' is set in the 80's, and including Carrie whipping tapes out of her bag to switch the music on her Walkman, and her group of friends arguing over which vinyl to put on the record player, transports you back to a completely different time. It still stays relevant, though: if you don't constantly switch albums on your iPod or flick from one Youtube video to another I'll be very surprised.
I find novels set in the recent past are the most difficult to write authentically: modern language slips in and it feels uncomfortable. The attention to detail really brought the time period to life, though: the description of their hangout in Soo's basement, the large television in a wooden surround in Tonya's house. If you liked 'Stranger Things' but wished there were less monsters, you'll definitely like 'Lost Stars'.
I wasn't impressed by the astrophysics which surprised me. It was one of the unique points that made me want to read this book in the first place. It didn't fit in very smoothly with everything else that was going on. It might have been easier to accept if the story had included a real astronomical event such as Haley's comet, but when I found out the Vira comet is fictional I was disappointed. There are so many fascinating and intriguing things going on in space, it didn't seem worthwhile to make one up. (Yes, I know it's fiction and that's the point, but why have real bands and a fake comet?).
Dean and Carrie's romance was sweet. Their easy, joking nature made it impossible not to smile during their exchanges, particularly with their constant search for the best band name. I was worried it was going to be instalove (I've read too much of that recently!) but I actually found myself rooting for them.
As well as the slow burn of their eventual coupledom, Carrie's redemption took its time. She's a hateful character at the beginning, dealing with fits of rage that left me cringing, but by the end of the novel she's starting to get herself under control and trying not to lash out at the people around her. It's a realistic coming of age, particularly factoring in the guilt of her involvement in Ginny's death and her struggle with an apathy verging on depression.
'I didn't want to kill myself. I just didn't want to be alive.'Her father is quite controlling in his concern for her, but it's nice to see a parent actively involved in their child's life, particularly after losing one daughter.
Seeing her mother struggling to cope with the loss of Ginny is also very realistic. Both Carrie's mother and father have their own emotions, which is still quite rare in YA - I'm so used to seeing parent's as unemotional robots that the rawness of their grief was very unsettling.
I was torn between a three and a four star for 'Lost Stars', but the ending definitely made me bump it up.
Whenever you encounter a romance with an end date in YA - one of the characters leaving for college, in this instance - it always seems to be avoided somehow. I was grateful that Dean returned to Oregon, and while their love story is left open for a sequel it doesn't necessarily need one.
This is Lisa Selin Davis first YA novel, and if she continues on in this vein she's going to make a big impact on the genre.