A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
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.
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
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 & Scariness
There's an interplanetary war with a high body count. People are killed and severely injured in various ways.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
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.
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Infrequent use of "s--t," "ass," "damn," "hell."
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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.
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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.
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.