These Broken Stars is a sneaky novel. In the beginning, it appears to be a standard science fiction young adult romance and coming-of-age story. Lilac is a snob with hidden depths, and Tarver has the ability to empathize with her and overlook her ruder behaviors. Naturally, they each have vital skills and knowledge that help them both survive the crash and beyond. It is a given that they will fall for each other, especially because their differences are so pronounced.
The romance may be predictable, but the story of their survival on the planet is anything but that. Ms. Kaufman and Ms. Spooner hide details of their futuristic world in the internal and external dialogues, forcing readers to pay close attention for snippets of information that will help them process this unfamiliar world. Yet, through a careful scrutiny of the dialogue, readers become thoroughly enmeshed in the story and in Tarver’s and Lilac’s fates. Readers learn more about them, and they both become something other than words on a page. Lilac is no longer the poor little rich girl, and Tarver is not someone with a chip on his shoulder. It is a symbiosis that befits a science fiction novel but also creates a fairly unique reaction to the story as it unfolds.
Ms. Kaufman and Ms. Spooner know how to use plot twists. They deftly weave the unexpected into their story and have no qualms about doing so. The dangers change so often, and neither authoress is shy about killing off characters. The fates of Lilac and Tarver are never 100 percent certain. While readers know that they will fall in love, they are less confident about whether both characters will make it to the end of the story alive. To say that such ambiguity provides a rush is an understatement.
Cynthia Holloway, Johnathan McClain and Sarge Anton work very well together narrating this intricate story. Ms. Holloway in particular masterfully adopts Lilac’s changes in tone and attitude as she evolves from spoiled rich heiress to someone much more humble and human. Sarge Anton, as the mysterious interrogator, has the perfect amount of wry hostility and disbelief as he seeks to wrestle the answers from Tarver. It is Johnathan McClain, however, who steals the show. His version of Tarver is everyone one would hope it would be. He exudes Tarver’s confidence, his homespun background, and his intelligence. He is also adroit at allowing cracks to filter into his performance so that readers can also catch glimpses of Tarver behind his war hero façade, the one who remains utterly devoted to his parents and the manners he learned at their hand. The trio brings this witty and intriguing story to life, drawing out readers’ emotions and holding captive their interest.
With elements of Star Trek, Doctor Who, and Star Wars, These Broken Stars is bound to attract a myriad of fans. The science is solid, the descriptions are luscious, and the dialogue is snappy. Most importantly, the story never drags into the melodramatic. The world inhabited by Lilac and Tarver may be mostly unfamiliar, but there exists a sense of realism and familiarity that keeps the story grounded. Yet, it is in the unfamiliar which builds up suspense and captures a reader’s interest. The fact that anything can and does go within the narrative is a refreshing bit of freedom within a novel that could have very easily fallen prey to the stereotypical and trite. Instead, These Broken Stars is an exciting, romantic, unpredictable, and trippy glimpse into a potential future in which humans are no longer limited to just one planet of which there is always consequences.