Brightly Burning

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Brightly Burning Book Poster Image
Engaging reboot puts Jane Eyre in space.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Romantic sci-fi meant to entertain. 

Positive Messages

Don't let pride or misplaced guilt cut you off from your loved ones. There's no point in carrying a grudge or holding on to resentment; forgive and move on. Status and wealth shouldn't matter; everyone is equal. Never give up, never lose hope.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Stella is intelligent, self-confident, artistic, loves books, is a skilled engineer and patient, caring teacher. She doesn't waste her emotions on resentment, self-pity, and puts others first, even when it means sacrificing her own happiness. Gender roles are pretty equally distributed; women have positions of authority. Diverse supporting characters include one who's gay (but nothing's made of it) and names that suggest Asian and South Asian ancestries.

Violence

After a gunshot, seeping blood is mentioned. Someone sets fire to a bedroom. A bloody bandage is mentioned but not described. Injuries from burning are briefly described but not gory. Some playful arm-punching. An unwanted hand on a thigh is slapped away; the perpetrator's called out for trying to get under a woman's skirt.

Sex

Some kissing, a couple with tongue described briefly. Some physical attraction from brief physical contact, like a hand on a hip or standing very close. Brief workplace sexual innuendo.

Language

"Bulls--t," "dammit," made-up word "frex" and variations used as a mild expletive.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Hugo drinks frequently and is mentioned in a couple of phases as being frequently drunk. Stella drinks a few times, once to excess with vomiting and hangover symptoms as consequences. Sometimes she mentions liking it, other times barely sips any when she's not in the mood. Lots of social drinking. Mention that illegal drugs are available on another ship. Sedatives are administered to calm a character with a mental illness.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Brightly Burning blends the literary classic Jane Eyre with science fiction. Lots of people and events closely follow the classic, but you don't need to have read it to be able to follow along here. A blossoming romance is one of the main plot points, but sexual content is mild. There are a few kisses, including a couple with tongue (but no detailed descriptions), and feelings of attraction and passion from being physically close. Alcohol is mentioned a lot, mostly in a social drinking context, but one character drinks heavily; Stella drinks to excess once. There's very little violence: one gunshot and a couple of mentions of blood, but no gore or detailed descriptions. There's almost no strong language, but "bulls--t" and "dammit" are used once each.

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What's the story?

BRIGHTLY BURNING tells of orphaned Stella Ainsley, 17, working as an engineer aboard the ancient, failing spaceship Stalwart. Rationing and power outages are a way of life on the Stalwart, but Stella dreams of more. When her application to be a governess aboard the private, luxurious spaceship Rochester is accepted, Stella's finally got her ticket off of the Stalwart for good. But things on the Rochester aren't all that they seem. There are mysterious noises in the night, a medical officer who never shows her face, and off-limits areas of the ship said to be used for "cold storage." To say nothing of the moody, brooding captain, Hugo Fairfax. Hugo's not all he seems, either, but he's definitely hiding something. As romance blossoms, mysteries deepen, along with Stella's determination to learn the truth.

Is it any good?

Author Alexa Donne's re-imagining of Jane Eyre in space is engaging, but will be enjoyed best by readers who come to it with an open mind. It's not Jane Eyre, and die-hard fans may be frustrated by the differences between Jane and Stella. It's not hard sci-fi, either, and die-hard fans may find too much romance for their taste. But readers who can leave their expectations behind will enjoy this blend of mystery, romance, and science fiction.

Donne effectively creates a vivid, richly populated world among a fleet of spaceships in orbit around Earth. Readers familiar with Jane Eyre won't find any surprises in the plot, but the setting and colorful characters add some interest to hopefully see them through to the end, when the excitement really starts to build. Teens will easily relate to Stella as she struggles to find her place in strange new surroundings, to learn the truth about Hugo, and to start a new life on her own terms.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Brightly Burning puts the characters and events from Jane Eyre into space. Is it OK to tell old stories in new ways? Why or why not?

  • How does the book portray alcohol use? Is it realistic? What are the consequences of too much drinking, in the book and in real life?

  • Have you ever read Jane Eyre? If so, what did the author change besides the setting? If not, would you like to now?

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For kids who love romance and science fiction

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