My rating: 1 of 5 stars
Initial reaction: This novel gets so many things wrong that I’m very surprised that it was marketed as a YA, but that it was even written and sent out the way it was at all. And this saddens me because it not only comes from someone who self-published the work, but also works in a health related spectrum. It’s not just the fact that this was poorly written, had every imaginable sci-fi stereotype you could throw a book at, and disjointed presentation with randomized scenes that don’t go together with any logical resonance at all.
But when you take the time in your work to blatantly slut shame, depict a young woman imagining an unwanted sexual display in a guy’s mind she clearly had no desire for (and had made unwanted advances to her in the scheme of the novel before then), you depict carnage and depression and cyberbullying and so many different things without handling them with any sort of care, you run into problems. Major problems. I was really appalled by this book and I would not recommend it for any one or any audience. That’s me being firm and probably more polite and with more patience than I should probably have with this respective novel.
Liz Gruder’s “Starseed” really has to be one of the worst novels I’ve ever read, in sci-fi, in YA, in any genre really. I don’t say that lightly. It’s one of those times when you wonder how a book could contain so many problems that it becomes not only a hindrance but an offense to read as it goes along.
There was a part of me, initially picking this up, that thought this might be a parody sci-fi story judging from the rather odd cover. I kept thinking of one of those cheesy 80s fluff sci-fi movies and thought “Oh, this might be fun, even if it is kind of a familiar premise.”
Turns out I couldn’t have been further from the truth. The cover in itself is oddly done in design. I didn’t realize that it was meant to be taken seriously, and that pretty much the appearance of these two characters are intentional and spot on for the book and might even be the least offensive thing about this work.
You basically have a narrative that feeds upon every possible sci-fi cliche that may exist, from the tin-foil hat featuring, to the sudden impregnation of a female character bearing an alien baby (who happens to be horrified because she’s suddenly pregnant and she’s a lesbian), to unwarranted probing and mind-control, to nightmarish visions that include a character forcing his way onto the female lead and somehow that being telegraphed into her emotional reception via her Facebook friending feed (don’t ask me how that makes sense, it doesn’t and honestly I was horrified at some of the portrayals here). If that weren’t enough, it also plays upon every YA cliche, right down to the instalove and insta-magic ability, Mary Sue heroine, melodramatic portrayals of death and fear, the depiction of cliques, the bullying and cyberbullying played on the part of mean girls and enabling of the administrators among other things. There’s also the atrocious, clearly unedited prose that jumps from one spectrum of the story to another without any rhyme or reason, doesn’t flesh out its characters, contains massive amounts of infodumping, and becomes a pain to read after a given point with all its massive drops of pop culture references.
But the true kicker in this particular story: the utter offenses of slut shaming, bitch-slamming, sexual groping, rape-insinuating, gay bashing (which is confounding considering this does have a token lesbian character in it), violence against children, misappropriation of religion, stereotyping of the Southern U.S., depression-evoking, and body shaming/women hating that made me feel like I wanted to take handfuls of my hair and scream. What on earth made the author think this was a good book? How does someone who works in a health industry think anything in this book could be construed as healthy or engaging or well…anything worth reading for any audience, let alone YA? (And don’t get me started on the random inserts of yoga and meditation done on behalf of the main character in here – which just adds insult to injury in my eyes.) This book isn’t worth the $7 that it’s being offered for in ebook form. I’d demand my money and time back if this wasn’t a galley read (well, I’d demand my time back now even considering it was a free read). I was that offended by this work.
Kalia is as close to a Mary Sue as you can get with her blond hair, round eyes and ditzy personality. She nags at her family that she wants to be normal, champions herself over them when she takes control of technology, and pretty much subjects to everything that could potentially go wrong when it comes to consorting with alien beings. I was frankly quite annoyed with her from around the start and had a feeling I wouldn’t like her for her demanding nature, but then the instalove that she finds with Jordyn pretty much confirmed this would be a rough read. Betwixt the long infodumps associated with the probing, nightmares, and otherwise odd visions in this work, it was difficult to move through the static dialogue in which the characters spoke, and I’m not just talking about the “alien speak” here. Even Kalia’s respective dialogue felt wooden and mechanical.
The bullying and subjections that Kalia was exposed to really felt done for the sake of drama rather than having any constructive point, and adding that to the “mean girl” activities, name dropping of pop culture icons and branding, I felt it was trying too hard to be into contemporary times. You could tell it was forced. I mean seriously, Jersey Shore references, Lady Gaga, Jerry Springer reruns, Titanic and the forced cheesy dialogue that I had to endure reading that in relationship with Jordyn and Kalia’s watching of it? Come on.
For anyone curious about the insinuated rape scene in this work, it felt a lot like the episode called “Violations” in Star Trek: The Next Generation, if anyone remembers Deanna Troi being subjected to the mind control effects of the enemy in that particular episode. That, ironically, has a parallel with this particular work, not just in the numerous Star Trek references here (*rolls eyes*), but in that it was trying to evoke many nightmarish images associated with the alien races in this work (though ultimately the nightmare sends Kalia into a dark depression which is somehow alleviated with the power of love and religious context. Though not of any significant weight or true coming to terms). But it wasn’t done well, certainly not done with any kind of context (though the character is repulsed by it), and oddly the whole nightmare scenario felt disjointed and wasn’t particularly creative with the whole psychic connection with the friends on Facebook feed.
This was just utter, complete rubbish as far as a YA sci-fi work is concerned for me. It offended me and I would not pick it up again, nor recommend it.
Overall score: 0.5/5 stars
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley from the publisher WiDo Publishing.