Just Finished Reading .. Starry Night by Isabel Gillies

Starry Night
by Isabel Gillies
To be published on September 2, 2014
by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Source: e-ARC from the publisher for review

Synopsis: Sometimes one night can change everything. On this particular night, Wren and her three best friends are attending a black-tie party at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to celebrate the opening of a major exhibit curated by her father. An enormous wind blasts through the city, making everyone feel that something unexpected and perhaps wonderful will happen. And for Wren, that something wonderful is Nolan. With his root-beer-brown Michelangelo eyes, Nolan changes the way Wren’s heart beats.

My take: This is going to be another "in defense of" review -- some points I'd like to make about a book that's received some pretty hard knocks on Goodreads. In this review, I'd like to look at some of the complaints and present a different take...

If you missed my In Defense Of review of Anatomy of a Misfit, you can read it here.

As with that review, I cut and pasted some Goodreads reviews of Starry Night and came up with this wordle:

Okay, so let's tackle some of these criticisms one by one:

Young characters:  Yes, the characters in this book are fifteen, and it is a truth universally acknowledged among YA readers  that 14 and 15 year-old protagonists can be problematic. Not because there's anything inherently wrong with being that age, but perhaps because there is something unnerving about watching 14 and 15 year olds do things that characters do in YA novels -- drinking, having sex, sneaking around behind their parents' backs, saving the world, discovering they have superpowers, and, of course, falling into undying and eternal love. Why are these things plausible when 16 or 17 year olds do them? I don't know. I did a post a while back that discussed "young" YA and while I think that this book does have a bit of a young voice (more on that below), some of the things that the characters in this book do are quite mature. Perhaps that dissonance is what has bothered some readers.

Writing: Wren's voice is definitely unique. She jumps around in time and goes off on tangents. She's an impulsive storyteller. She has some learning differences -- she's dyslexic and dysgraphic and also has ADHD. I admired the way this book tried to capture the mental processes of someone whose mind works a little differently. Yes, I can see that Wren's narrative could be all over the place at times, but I got used to it. Yes, Wren uses some unfortunate turns of phrase, like root beer brown Michelangelo eyes and Mozart of Mozarella.

Privilege: This book was pitched as a "New York book." This is a book about New Yorkers who get to attend black tie galas at the Met. At times, Wren and her friends feel like 15 going on 30. They go to an expensive, exclusive private school. Some of them are driven around the city in town cars. Wren borrows her mother's designer gown to go to a gala at the Metropolitan Museum. Writing about rich, privileged characters like this can be a minefield -- are you playing on readers' wish fulfillment fantasies, or showing them characters that don't seem very sympathetic or relatable?

Romance: It seems like some readers went into this expecting a fluffy romance. I'd read a 2009 adult book by Gillies,  It Happens Every Day, an autobiographical story of how Gillies' first husband suddenly dumped her to marry a colleague and how emotionally and financially devastated she was in the aftermath. So I guess I wasn't shocked that -- and this isn't a spoiler; it's revealed by Wren in chapter one -- the romantic aspect of this story involves some heartbreak. I liked that. The whole "I met you at fifteen and will love you forever" is a reality to some people, but not to most of us.

In sum, this book has some quirks. But maybe you're also willing to give it a chance. If so, let me know what you thought!


  1. Unfortunately I was one of the hard knocks I guess, but I didn't know it was poetry and I just can't connect with characters with that format.
    Great to hear though that you did your in defense of!

    1. That's okay -- you have to be honest. If the book's not for you, it's not for you...

  2. I totally connected the author's own experience to what happens in this story! As much as I prefer the HEAs in my books, most of us have fallen for the wrong person before, and I appreciate the author's message about how love changes us - and sometimes it isn't the right one. The younger characters aren't my favorite, a little older is more comfortable for me, but I think 15 year olds can definitely be like this too. And I completely agree that expectations have played a role in how this book has been viewed. Have you read Wildlife yet? I haven't, but it seems like it tries to do some of this focus on first love that might not be the right one - and general what it is to be a teen - but maybe more successfully? At least in how it has been received. Anyway, I agree that SN has some good qualities and I like seeing your positive take!

    1. I agree -- didn't mind the romance at all. I have not read Wildlife -- will have to look that one up :)

  3. I really like these 'in defense' reviews. I haven't heard about this one but I usually like books with these super short and vague summaries.

  4. I still don't think this one is for me- I don't think I can get over the the root beer brown Michelangelo eyes. Your review did send me off on a Google search abut her first book, and then I googled her ex and his new spouse... But I'm still probably not going to read this book. ;)

  5. I wasn't sure about this one one from the reviews that I have read so far, but you make some good points. I might have to give this one a try.

  6. Hmm. I totally get what you're saying. I think this one probably isn't for me, at least not right now when I have a million books to read and several of them books I should love or are for review. I think the age thing probably would bug me because I think about those kids being just freshmen or sophomores in high school and that does feel young for me, especially as a mom. I think others won't have that problem.

  7. Great post. I haven't heard about this book and thus, I haven't read Goodreads reviews, but now I am curious about it!

  8. I'm going to give this book the benefit of the doubt. Mostly because when I saw the title and the cover, months ago, it instantly appealed to me very much. I didn't know the characters were as young as 15 though, I had kind of guessed they were around 18 because of the summary.

    It actually sounds like I'll like Wren's storytelling. I kind of like characters who are all over the place a bit.

    The rich factor is a turn off, because as you said, "are you playing on readers' wish fulfillment fantasies, or showing them characters that don't seem very sympathetic or relatable". I can't relate to 15 year olds with rich kids riding in fancy cars and dressing (let alone fitting) in their mothers expensive gowns... For one, I'm 22, an ex college student, I live in Kansas and I've never so as much gone to an actual art gallery/museum. Haha.

    And then the parents actually letting their 15 year old daughter wear such a gown. *sigh* You know New Yorkers though, supposedly they're more sophisticated and grow up quicker. ;)

    I'll admit it, I do love a good heartbreaking novel, no matter how much it breaks my heart. At least part of it is a bit more realistic than other aspects. Especially at 15. Great review, it was short, sweet, but got across everything I needed to know.


  9. Never heard of this book but I think I would give it a try.


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