(Originally Published October 22, 2020)
I read a lot of heavy things, mostly in research. For a while, doing so placed me in quite a slump that I’ve had a hard time getting out of. It’s mostly just academic texts and folklore for writing research and inspiration, so leisurely reading has been difficult to get into. And yet, while I was still working at the bookstore in receiving, I stumbled across a beautiful color of skyscrapers and stars, and a premise that began and ended with music.
The Sound of Stars is a sweet and fun little story of Janelle “Ellie” Baker, a young girl living in the aftermath of a massive alien invasion. All humans have been pushed into interment installations and all of our creative media have been confiscated and destroyed. Art in any form is illegal and anyone discovered with it face death by hanging as a demonstration. Having to navigate this dark new world, Janelle chose to become a rebel in her own way as her building’s secret librarian. She loans her personal collection of books in order to offer relief to others in these dark times and knows that if caught, her life would end. However, Janelle could just do nothing, living by the moto of “they can control how we die, but now how we live!”
Enter M0Rr1S, a manufactured version of the invaders meant to look and feel like the subjugated race in order to better conquer it. He discovered Janelle’s secret library and falls in love with a book of hers. Thus, he feels a meaningful connection with her spirited, yet subtle rebellion and enlists her to help him in obtaining his secret love: Music.
Through unfortunate mishaps, Janelle and M0Rr1S embark on a cross-country road trip to save humanity, never realizing that saving the earth doesn’t lie at the end of their journey, but in the connection, they form with stories and catchy tunes!
I didn’t realize this was something I needed until I read it. The right type of simple, the right type of sweet, and the right type of hopeful! The Sound of Stars provided a kind, light-hearted journey of discovery between Janelle and M0Rr1S as they learned each other and I learned them. While it did show some racial and social justice issues, they were delivered in a way that showed why Janelle became the young woman she is. It did well to show how even in the direst of circumstances, the nature and inner prejudices of others are not guaranteed to suddenly change. Janelle feels true-to-life as a girl growing up in Brooklyn suddenly thrust into an upper-class high-society area. The prejudice she and her family faced and the effect it had on them before the invasion. It embittered Janelle and makes her question if she truly wants the old earth and old humanity back.
On the other side, M0Rr1S’s perspective – cleverly written in 3rd person – grants a voyeuristic quality to his narrative. He has no privacy due to his connection to what is essentially a hivemind. Showing emotion is dangerous for him, to the extinct that he could be “terminated” should he say or do the wrong thing under all those eyes. Often, he is not allowed a choice as others can simply press into his mind and thoughts at any time they please without his permission. His only solace is the music he has collected illegally from Earth. His only solace is his love of the music of earth he managed to secretly collect. He allows himself to fall in love with the sound of Earth and nurtures his desire to save the planet in any way possible. His character is refreshing as many times the male protagonist is designed to be stoic, aloof, and often standoffish. M0Rr1S is the most happy-go-lucky guy I’ve ever read. He wears his heart on his sleeve where all can see. It actually can be a bit overwhelming, especially for poor Janelle who is trying to reconcile her vision of the alien overlords and… well this ball of sunshine and sparkles in front of her. However, M0Rr1S is very determined and carries a heavy burden to the end of the world. He is happy to have someone to share it with and help strengthen his resolve to do what he must.
Janelle and M0Rr1S are the products of their environments and share a resistance to letting it control them. Each of their perspectives is beautifully unique and cutely written. Everything about this story is very character-driven and positive foot forward. It’s easy to tell that the focus was never on the horrible future Janelle and M0Rr1s may face at the end, but on the connections and empathy that can be shared between two people even if they’re literally from different worlds! It’s a pleasurable read that can be cleared in a couple days (one if you’re like the wife) and it leaves you with a fluffy, floating feeling like perfectly whipped meringue.
Honestly, I don’t have many complaints about the writing. It is very much a teen novel in its purest form and reading level. Fast-paced read as the focus is on the story than trying to impress with metaphor. Dow’s crème puff personality shows vividly in through her word choices, descriptors, and references. You can tell which scenes are very important or loved by how much more goes into them. My only wish was that the novel had actually been a bit slower in its pacing. As it is a quick read, the events go by a bit faster, and I would’ve loved a bit more of a slow down and vibe in some scenes as well just a tiny bit more introspection in others. Surprisingly, I would’ve wanted more screen time for 0rsa and Br1xton and wished I’d gotten more scenes or at least a bit more to them – perhaps I will in the next book! Overall, character development, romance, and structure are good. I feel Dow will get better and improve with each word and each book she’s allowed to write, and I want more than anything for that woman to be allowed to write. The positivity in her writing is something we need.
Honestly, I don’t have many complaints about the writing. It is very much a teen novel in its purest form and reading level. Fast-paced read as the focus is on the story than trying to impress with metaphor. Dow’s crème puff personality shows vividly in through her word choices, descriptors, and references. You can tell which scenes are very important or loved by how much more goes into them. My only wish was that the novel had actually been a bit slower in its pacing. As it is a quick read, the event goes by a bit faster, and would’ve loved a bit more of a slow down and vibe in some scenes as well just a tiny bit more introspection in others. Surprisingly, I would’ve wanted more screen time for 0rsa and Br1xton and wished I’d gotten more scenes or at least a bit more to them – perhaps I will in the next book! Overall, character development, romance, and structure are good. I feel Dow will get better and improve with each word and each book she’s allowed to write, and I want more than anything for that woman to be allowed to write. The positivity in her writing is something we need.
I loved this book. I think there will be some who find it not to their taste because of the strange notion that SciFi requires a lot of science and action – especially in alien invasion-type stories. In reality, it gave me the nice chill down I needed from all that academic reading as well as instilling me with a very new light and warm sense of hopefulness. To describe it, this book is fucking adorable! It brought me back to appreciating the Young Adult category and gave me just what I needed among all the serious fiction and allegories about blackness and suffering. Dow gave me a black girl who wasn’t in a state of constant suffering. Where her skin color, her experience, and her traumas made her who she was, but they did not define her and did not take away her happiness and will to do good for her world. Having black characters in sweet, hopeful narratives, and having them be happy is so, so important and it hurts that these are not the stories that publishers want.
That’s why I will hype the living hell out of this book as well as its sequel when and any others that for once just let a black protagonist have an adventure that doesn’t end and begin with a metaphor about their skin color. I want to see more stories like this where even if things aren’t quite okay, the love and happiness are not just bittersweet interludes between pain on pain on pain and taking on the world. But rather just something that we can escape into that doesn’t look so much like our reality already. I think anyone who reads The Sound of Stars will be filled with the same warmth and sweetness that Dow poured into it. I hope the sequel gives that and much more.
So! I’m asking from the bottom of my heart to check out The Sound of Stars (( LINK )) and give it a chance. She deserves some attention as the debut of this gem was buried by COVID. It’s been out less than a year, so let’s turn it around. Make it so we can show that happy black adventures sell too!
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