Defy the Stars

Book review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Defy the Stars Book Poster Image
Sci-fi space thriller is a thought-provoking page-turner.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Readers will learn a bit about immune systems, the effects of environmental toxins, the differences in belief systems among various faiths, and a few scientific and philosophical ideas.

Positive Messages

Noemi and Abel demonstrate how even the unlikeliest of people can become friends. Abel's sense of self will make readers question where the line is between human and AI. Abel's abilities and his friendship and feelings toward Noemi and his father will generate conversation about love, how it develops, and what potential partners see in each other beyond physical attraction, which neither of these characters considers of primary importance.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Noemi is courageous, determined, and intelligent. Despite not knowing a lot about the world outside of Genesis, she's a quick study with an open mind. Abel is obviously beyond intelligent, and he grows beyond his programming to full sentience and will, to defend and protect out of love and honor, not blind obedience.

Violence

There's an interplanetary war with a high body count. People are killed and severely injured in various ways.

Sex

Abel mentions prostitution as the fastest way to make money. He discusses the ways he's probably a skilled and expert lover, considering how thoroughly he's been programmed and how attractive he is physically. There's a passionate, climactic, life-changing kiss.

Language

Infrequent use of "s--t," "ass," "damn," "hell."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens/young adults on one planet drink (a "concoction of pineapple and ... something") and smoke an herb that is described similarly to marijuana.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Defy the Stars is a dual-narrative sci-fi adventure following Noemi, a young teen soldier from the Genesis space colony, and Abel, an advanced AI who's nearly indistinguishable from humans. The space thriller doesn't skim over violence; it includes an upsetting death and many close calls. The protagonists are under near-constant threat, whether from the authorities, artificial intelligence security "mechs," or the dangerous elements of space travel. Because Abel doesn't age, he appears around 18 or 19 but has "lived" for more than 30 years and occasionally says scandalous things (like proposing he prostitute himself as a means of quickly acquiring funds or having sex to relieve Noemi's stress and tension) in a matter-of-fact way. There's a blossoming romance between Noemi and Abel, but it's slow-burning and doesn't move beyond kissing.

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What's the story?

DEFY THE STARS is set in the distant future, and Earth is nearly uninhabitable while colonies of humans have settled on other planets, like the environmentally pristine Genesis, where humans fight off invasion from Earth's robot army. Noemi Vidal is an orphaned teen soldier in the Genesis army. During a recon space mission, Noemi winds up on abandoned spaceship, where she encounters Abel, a mech unlike any of the 25 others she's read about -- one with the capabilities of all the others put together. Abel, who was created by Earth's foremost AI inventor, had been stuck on the ship for 30 years, and after dealing with Noemi he realizes his programming requires him to obey her as his new commander. They're tentative and unsure of each other, and Noemi can command that Abel help her on a Genesis mission -- even if the mission will destroy him. But as their time together proves more and more dangerous, Noemi recognizes Abel is more human than she'd like to admit, and Abel discovers new feelings he can't quite classify.

Is it any good?

Riveting, relevant, and surprisingly romantic, this sci-fi space adventure switches perspectives between a young female soldier and a human-like AI who team up for a dangerous mission. Author Claudia Gray is adept at sci-fi and romance, and she continues to merge the usually incongruous genres well in this opposites-attract, slow-burning love story that unfolds as a tale of escape, adventure, and self-discovery. Gray also explores issues of faith and discrimination. Noemi, like all Genesis-born, has been raised to believe "mechs" (AI) are soulless abominations used by amoral Earthlings, but Abel is alternately snarky, smug, arrogant, funny, truthful, and kind. Noemi and Abel's banter is sarcastic and humorous, even as Abel's primary directive is to follow her orders. So he makes her rethink her stance on AI and whether he's more human or machine, while she makes him rethink his programming and feel.

Gray laudably manages to make Defy the Stars diverse -- Noemi is of Latino and Polynesian descent, Abel is white and speaks with a faint British accent like his maker, and supporting characters range in race, ethnicity, and religion. Noemi is a particularly multifaceted character; it's easy to see what Abel finds remarkable in her. And Abel may look perfect, but looks aren't dwelled upon, since Noemi (and all Genesis residents) are described like a mash-up of Veronica Roth's Abnegation and Dauntless: self-sacrificing, faithful, and slightly puritanical but also brave and ready to defend their homeland at all costs. Noemi and Abel's story is so compelling, readers will be eager to find out what happens in the next installment. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about whether Noemi and Abel are role models in Defy the Stars. How do they show courage, teamwork, and perseverance? Why are these important character strengths?

  • Discuss the romance in the book. Do you root for Noemi and Abel? Does it matter that Abel isn't 100 percent human? What are some other books in which there's a love story between cyborgs, androids, sentient AI, and humans?

  • What do you think about the violence in Defy the Stars? What about the idea that one person's terrorism is another person's revolution?

  • What do Abel and Noemi learn, and how do they change throughout the story?

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