Monday, July 30, 2007

mini Book Expo 2007 review #2 - "Star Dancer" by Beth Webb

Author: Beth Webb
Writing this review has been tough. I didn't love the book, but I was going to post a nice, supportive little review for a couple of reasons. One, I feel guilty about posting two negative miniBook Expo reviews in a row, and two, Star Dancer is nowhere near as bad as "Vanquished". However, my conscience would never let me rest if I wasn't honest, so here we go....
As I read, I worried I was being too hard on the book. I struggled to remind myself that the author wrote this for "young adults", as opposed to actual adults like myself. But then I thought of all the other young adult fiction that I truly enjoyed reading at any age, authors such as J.K. Rowling, Katherine Paterson, Judy Blume, Philip Pullman, Ray Bradbury, L.M. Montgomery...I could go on and on. What's the difference about Star Dancer? Why did I never really connect with the book?
Star Dancer is set in "prehistoric times", where Druids have recieved two phrophecies from "the Goddess". Prophecy one is of a terrible evil that is to come. Prophecy two is of a child being born, the star dancer, who will save them from said evil. The Druids presume this star dancer will be a boy (shocker), but it's actually a girl. The girl is unacknowledged by the Druids until almsost too late - then has to leave her family to begin her accelerated druidic training, hopefully in time to save the world from the coming evil.
For starters, the book needs a good editor. At 343 pages (wide margins and generous font included), it is way too bulky. The pacing feels off, and scenes of high drama are interspersed with tortured dialogue passages that were difficult to read. I suspect Webb was trying to re-create some sort of olde-English feel to the text, but it comes off clunky and inconsistent. The storytelling passages, or inner monologues of characters are quite readable, but the dialogue is not so good.
The tone of the book is very condescending - similar in feel to the Lemony Snickett books (which I also disliked - though I would recommend the series to kids who are new readers). The language and plot are overly simplistic for the 12 year olds it was written for. Halfway through the book, there are serious events happening, but nothing in the characters individual plotlines seem to have prepared them for these events, so their reactions are unbalanced, weak and unbelievable.
The main character, whose name I've already forgotten (wait - Tegen, her name is Tegen), is supposed to be one of those underdog, uber-humble kids who is actually very exceptional. But despite the fact that the entire book (and series, eventually) is centred around her, Tegen never really came to life for me. I was more interested in the supporting characters of Gilda the midwife, and Tegen's brother, Griff.
Griff is supposed to be a "half-head", or "moon-face". He was found abandoned by the riverside by Tegen's father the same night Tegen was born. Griff speaks with his own special syntax (lots of "I's", and "yus", and "dunna's"), and this combined with the physical description makes it fairly obvious to a contemporary reader that Webb is describing someone with Down's Syndrome. The Griff character is very inconsistent, fluctuating between wise old soul, and annoying special-needs brother with confusing speed. Toward the end of the book, Tegen and Griff are married (hand-fasted), as per the wish of their village's Druid (Griff's natural father, who is dying). Up until this point in the book, Griff and Tegen have been fairly close, with Tegen relying heavily on Griff for emotional support. After the hand-fasting, things are awkward. Tegen becomes obsessed with the fact that Griff might want to consummate their marriage. He certainly tries, saying things like "I luvs yer, Tegen, and I want to give yus a big cuddle like men dus to women."
Umm, ew? And do you see what I mean by unbalanced? It takes a very special author to deal with difficult issues like child abandonment, misogyny, menstruation, and arranged marriages to de-facto siblings in a way that is appropriate (and still entertaining) for young adults. Webb doesn't quite make it.
The book wasn't terrible, but I have zero interest in reading the sequels, I wouldn't give it to any book-loving young adult I know, and I won't recommend it to anyone else. There are better choices out there.


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