A huge thanks to Razorbill for giving me a free digital copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
I just want to give myself a pat on the back for reviewing this book before the publication date. Lately, that’s been a real struggle. *looks at my review of These Violent Delights*
Content warnings: grief, death of a family member
Title: The Wide Starlight
Author: Nicole Lesperance
Expected release date: February 16, 2021
Genre: Young adult, magical realism, contemporary
Length: 304 pages (hardcover)
Synopsis: (via Goodreads) “According to Arctic legend, if you whistle at the Northern Lights, they’ll swoop down and carry you off forever. Sixteen-year-old Eline Davis knows it’s true because it happened to her mother. Eli was there that night on the remote glacier in Svalbard, when her mother whistled, then vanished.
Years later, Eli is living with her dad on Cape Cod. When Eli discovers the Northern Lights will be visible for one night on the Cape, she hatches a plan to use the lights to contact her missing mother. And it works. Her mother arrives with a hazy story of where she’s been all this time. Eli knows no one will believe them, so she keeps it all a secret. But when magical, dangerous things start happening–narwhals appearing in Cape Code Bay, meteorites landing in the yard by the hundreds, three shadowy fairytale princesses whispering ominous messages–the secrets start to become more like lies.
It’s all too much, too fast, and Eli pushes her mother away, not expecting her to disappear as abruptly as she appeared. Her mother’s gone again, and Eli’s devastated. Until she finds the note written in mother’s elegant scrawl: Find me where I left you. And so, off to Svalbard Eli goes.”
I’m struggling to rate this. While I did like it, it was also extremely sad and not something I was ready for. When I saw this book compared to The Astonishing Color of After, I was immediately drawn to it. That book is one of my favorite and I absolutely loved the magical realism of it, despite having such heavy elements to it. And yet for The Wide Starlight… I’m just not sure. Yes, it is sad overall, and it didn’t end in a way that I thought it would. There are some happy moments, but due to the magical realism, it felt a little silly for me to just say, “These people need to go to therapy.” But at the same time… They do. They need someone to talk to, someone who can help them sort and work through their thoughts and feelings.
I also felt… disconnected from the characters. We follow Eline, who lost her mother, Silje, at a young age when her family lived in Svalbard. She and her father eventually moved to New England. It felt like grasping at straws for me, trying to take hold of something concrete in Eline’s life. Yes, she has school and her best friend, Iris; her dad who really is someone good in her life. Yet at the same time I felt distant, like Eline wasn’t wholly there herself, almost to the point of being obsessed with finding her mother. It’s like there was a crack in the universe and Eline needed to fix it, needed to know the remedy. But when she does find out, it isn’t what she wanted or maybe even hoped for it to me.
However, I did like how Eline discovered more about her family. I definitely think she needed that connection to Svalbard and to her mother. She holds a lot of resentment for being taken away from there, which fuels her desire to find her mother even more. Here, she also rediscovers how horrible her grandmother is. The intertwining of the magic and this strange desire for Eline’s grandmother to keep her daughter and granddaughter safe feels like borderline gaslighting. I won’t delve deep into that because *spoilers* but I felt extremely uncomfortable reading all the scenes with the grandmother. There seemed to be a small reconciliation between Eline and her grandmother, though, and that was nice.
It was interesting to follow Eline but then to also follow her mother without the story flat-out saying it’s Silje. I wanted to know more about Silje and her friend, Marit. I would have been interested to learn more about Eline’s father. You can tell he cares for his daughter a great deal and maybe even finds the events surrounding his wife’s disappearance makes Eline quite fragile, so he doesn’t really talk about it. It’s also difficult because he’s a scientist, so straight away Eline knows she can’t really tell him–or anyone for that matter–what happened.
I’m not sure what to make of the story about the three princesses and the lindworm. Overall, that just seems like one wild and crazy story that kept taking very sinister turns.
If you reviewed The Wide Starlight and would like for me to link your review in this post, please let me know!