Thursday, May 17, 2012

[review] Josephine Angelini - Starcrossed (Starcrossed, #1)

Title: Starcrossed
Author: Josephine Angelini
Series: Starcrossed, #1
Publisher: HarperTeen
Format read: ebook
Source: Personal collection, purchased from Sony Reader store
Buy from: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Sony | Bookdepository
Additional note: Special $0.99 ebook edition with bonus material (extended author's note, four chapters of the upcoming sequel). It's going to be available for only a limited time, so if you're curious about it and don't mind plunking down a dollar, now's the time to get it!
Summary (via Goodreads):
Set on the island of Nantucket, STARCROSSED tells the tale of Helen Hamilton, a young woman whose destiny is forever altered when she meets Lucas Delos and tries to kill him in front of her entire high school. Which is terribly inconvenient, not only because Lucas is the most beautiful boy on the island, but also because Helen is so achingly shy she suffers physical pain whenever she is given too much attention.

Making matters worse, Helen is beginning to suspect she’s going crazy. Whenever she’s near Lucas or any member of his family she sees the ghostly apparitions of three women weeping bloody tears, and suffers the burden of an intense and irrational hate. She soon learns that she and Lucas are destined to play the leading roles in a Greek tragedy that the Three Fates insist on repeating over and over again throughout history. Like her namesake, Helen of Troy, she’s destined to start a war by falling in love. But even though Lucas and Helen can see their own star-crossed destiny, they’re still powerfully attracted to each other. Will they give up their personal happiness for the greater good, or risk it all to be together?
Random paragraph: "As she watched the sand turn gray, then pink, then coral with the rising sun, Helen thought that this was the second dawn she had seen in as many days. Of the two, she much preferred this one. She was in far more pain, but she was also alive and completely free from anger. Helen hadn't realized how heavy the burden of hate had been until she was allowed to put it down."  (p. 76, ebook edition as displayed on Sony Reader)

I've always been curious about this one, and when I won a giveaway for an ARC of the sequel, it encouraged me to finally get to it. I requested an inter-library loan, but the very next day, it went on sale at ebook retailers for $0.99. I picked it up immediately -- maybe there's still a way to cancel that loan request...

This seems to be polarizing among the YA blogging community, which made me extra curious about it. Thankfully, I wound up really enjoying it.
I was hooked from the concept which, from the very beginning, makes some people go "WTF?" and others squeal in joy: when Helen first sets eyes on Lucas, her first reaction is to try to kill him.
Meeting his eyes was an awakening. For the first time in Helen's life she knew what pure, heart-poisoning hatred was.
She was not aware of the fact that she was running toward him, but she could hear the voices of the three sobbing sisters rise into a keening wail, could see them standing behind the tall, dark boy she knew was Lucas, and the smaller, brown-haired boy next to him. The sisters were tearing at their hair until it came out of their scalps in bloody hanks. They pointed accusing fingers at the two boys while they screeched a series of names--the names of people murdered long ago. Helen suddenly understood what she had to do.
The Furies show up time and time again in the book; bloody, loud, and horrifying, they set into motion the horrible things that the characters do to each other. Helen and the Delos family are trapped in a blood feud dating back to the Trojan War: blood for blood for blood.

I've seen this book compared to Twilight often (I only just found out that the description of this book when it was being marketed was "Twilight meets Percy Jackson"), but this succeeds in several aspects where Twilight fell flat. Helen has normal, human friends who play a large role in her life. When she starts ditching them to hang out with the Delos family after discovering her demigod powers, they get upset and react appropriately. Happily, she makes up with them -- and when she reveals her powers of flight to Claire, her best friend (and one of my favorite characters), she responds with a bemused, "Oh, so you are a vampire?" Turns out she knew all along. When the other human characters get involved in demigod battles, members of the Delos family try to wave it away as a bump on the head, but they go, "No. You can't do that. I saw what I saw." Compared to so many other YA novels where the main character runs off with the supernatural beings and leaves the normal, human people behind, or the humans just flail helplessly in the face of supernatural powers, I found this incredibly refreshing.

I liked Helen as a protagonist -- I could relate to her wanting to keep to herself and not draw any attention. She's talented, but due to a childhood incident where she ripped a friend's bathroom door off its hinges, keeps to herself out of fear of being called a "freak." She purposely loses at track, despite being faster than anyone else, and she's afraid of taking AP English because of the workload. However, her peers and teachers encourage her; her coach catches on to her and forces her to run with the boys, and her English teacher (who I adore) continues to persuade her to take AP English.

I'm gonna go on a tangent here: I've been really unimpressed by a lot of YA lately, and it's been mainly because the high school settings and drama make me feel weary and old. However, the high school in this didn't annoy me at all, and I think it's partly due to the presence of good teachers. Mr. Hergeshimer is snarky, highly intelligent, and somewhat corrosive, but he wins at life. Thinking back to the YA that's annoyed me lately, they hadn't had any strong teachers at all, even though they're set in high school! I kind of liked the clique politics, too; they're not well-defined as any set subculture, but they're just made up of those who "made it" and those who didn't, based on living within the confines of an isolated island. As somebody who grew up in a small town, I thought this was pretty accurate.

Another digression: the demigod powers. The descriptions of flying in this book were so bloody cool. It made me wish I could do that, to be honest.

Angelini's prose ranges from "decent" to "very good." I especially liked this description of Nantucket after a nor'easter:
The storm had mashed the fallen autumn leaves into a kind of red-brown paste that coated the cobblestone streets and clogged the overwhelmed gutters. The rain was petering out and the wind was dying down, but the bottoms of the clouds were still a smudged-mascara color, and water ran in impromptu rivers down the sidewalks on their way out to sea. Fallen branches lay here and there, the bushy ends denuded of leaves, and the trunk ends, newly ripped from the trees, ended in fresh white splinters that stuck out in all directions like dropped boxes of toothpicks. Helen could smell the tree sap in the air as the few trees that the island had to offer bled out after losing their battle with the wind. With the disturbing image of dead wooden soldiers and giant wooden horses in her mind, the last thing that she wanted to do was eat.
The book isn't without its problems. I thought the villain was a bit one-dimensional, and I was kind of disappointed when the book went into third-person omniscient, since I felt it succeeded more when it was exclusively focusing on Helen. Also, the "problem" at the end, with Lucas and Helen backing off each other because they think they're related... makes me wonder if they can do basic math. Like, I can understand Helen believing it because of who said it (without spoiling too much), but I hope that'll be resolved early on in the next book by other characters who can, err, realize that 17 =/= 19.

Overall: I'd call it a "guilty pleasure," but I legitimately liked this. I can't wait for my Dreamless ARC to come in the mail. :)

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