Review of Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray

I’m really behind on writing about the many children’s books I’ve read over the past few months, and I will get to them soon, but in the meantime, I’ll be posting the occasional review of a new (or at least not vintage) book.

Defy the Stars
Claudia Gray
Published by Little Brown Books for Young Readers April 2017

I tend to avoid books that take place in space, but I loved Claudia Gray’s Firebird trilogy, so I jumped at the chance to read Defy the Stars. I’m glad that I did, because I loved it.

Defy the Stars is the story of Noemi, a young soldier from the planet Genesis, a former colony of Earth. Genesis won its independence years earlier, but now they’re in a protracted war with a dying Earth, who wants to reestablish control over the former colony. Noemi has volunteered for what is basically a suicide mission to help save her planet, when she’s separated from her fleet and ends up on an abandoned Earth spaceship. The ship is empty except for Abel, a very Defy the Starsadvanced “mech,” which is basically a human-looking robot. Now that Noemi has taken over the ship, Abel’s programming requires him to view her as his commander and they begin a desperate journey across the stars to try to fulfill her mission and save Genesis.

Defy the Stars may be a young adult book, but it deals with some big issues, like immigration and what it means to be human. Genesis is something of a utopia, an egalitarian society living in harmony with nature and strictly conserving resources. But this utopia has been built on isolation and they feel that the people of Earth have screwed up their own planet, so why should be allowed onto Genesis, where they may do the same thing. On the other hand, Earth is dying and its citizens need somewhere to go. Many of them have already spread out to other planets, but most of those planets are barely habitable and can’t take many people. Gray’s take on these issues is nuanced. Noemi is firmly on her planet’s side at the beginning, but her travels through the planets cause her to question her beliefs.

Abel’s creator was also responsible for many other models of mech, all of which are built for specific purposes (combat soldiers, sex workers, etc.) and thus their programming is limited. Abel is the only one of his model, and he has very special abilities and in many ways, he is almost human. Noemi has encountered mechs before, but only in a combat capacity, so she has prejudices against them, but Abel’s abilities and emotions cause her to question her beliefs, while all of the feelings that Abel experiences during his journey with Noemi are new and exciting and he starts to wonder why his programming allows him to feel so much. Both Abel and Noemi have to rethink their concepts of what it means to be human.

Besides the big issues, there’s a romance, but it’s not the central focus of the book. It’s an important plot point, but it’s not the only thing going on and that was a refreshing thing to find in a YA book. There is going to be a sequel, but this book doesn’t end on a cliffhanger and it can stand on its own.

(I received an ARC to review from Amazon Vine.)

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