A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
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 ...
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?
- Author: Claudia Gray
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Topics: Friendship, Robots, Space and aliens
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
- Publication date: April 4, 2017
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 12 - 18
- Number of pages: 512
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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