Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Review: When the Stars Go Blue by Caridad Ferrer

Found via: Ari at Reading in Color

Ari has been raving about this book for months - I'm so glad I could finally get my hands on it! My reaction (spoiler alert!) isn't quite as enthusiastic as hers, but I still found it to be a worthwhile read.

When the Stars Go Blue: A NovelSoledad Reyes knows nothing but dance. Since she first set foot in the ballet studio as a child, she's known she wants to live life on the stage - preferably as a ballerina, even though physically she's quite different from ballerina norms. But when she starts a passionate romance with Jonathan, a guy who's as passionate about music as she is about dance, Soledad wants to give his type of performance a try for a summer, and joins the exhausting and exhilarating world of competitive drum and bugle corp. The local group is putting on an ambitious adaptation of Carmen, and Soledad will be perfect for the title role.

As Soledad is drawn deeper into the drum and bugle corp, and into her relationship with Jonathan, Soledad is tired but happy. Until a handsome Spanish soccer player arrives and along with his team seems to be following Soledad's team from county fair to county fair, and Soledad's summer begins to have some eerie parallels to the opera she's starring in.

In the midst of this novel, I absolutely could not put this thing down. I was totally absorbed from page one. For one thing, Ferrer has nailed the descriptions of the thrill of performing. I was never much of a dancer, but I did musical theater for most of my life, so I definitely got Soledad's passion and need to be performing. I also liked how the romance doesn't take much time to heat up - there's no extended, frustrating flirtation here. Once Soledad and Jonathan know how the other one feels it starts getting steamy.

All through Soledad's passionate affair with Jonathan and the new world of drum and bugle corp performance, I was right there with her, soaring with her highs and absolutely crushed with her lows. Thrilled with the innocent flirtations of the handsome Spanish soccer player and crushed every time something worked to keep Soledad and Jonathan apart.

But when I finished the book, and started to just didn't hold up. While Ferrer hits all of the emotional beats just right, and does an excellent job of describing those emotions, there are moments of more tangible actions where the description is lacking. Like I'm still not sure I totally get how drum and bugle corp works - when Jonathan shows Soledad a DVD of a previous performance, Ferrer does an excellent job of describing Soledad's emotions, to the point of not really describing what she's actually seeing!

I was also really uncomfortable Jonathan's behavior, and Soledad's overall reactions to it. Ferrer does an amazing job of showing how a passionate relationship can quickly slip into an emotionally dangerous one, but I felt Soledad was way too willing to forgive and rationalize Jonathan's behavior in the end - and I can't help but feel in the end she's setting herself up to be hurt all over again. She tells us how her new relationship has and will be different - but I never saw any clear signs that it will be.

I wasn't familiar with Carmen going into the book, and the story of the opera is also never really fleshed out, just like the world of drum and bugle corp. However when I looked up the opera on Wikipedia, it looks like Ferrer has done an amazing job weaving in parallels between Soledad's and Carmen's stories.

But there was also a lot to like here, too. I loved Soledad's confidence in her body, even as she acknowledges she's physically different from ballerina norms. Her relationship with Mamacita is beautiful, and while her dance partner Raj flirts with some fabulous stereotypes, I did like that his presence illustrated that there was some diversity regarding sexual orientation in the all-male corp, and gave Soledad someone to talk about boys with in a story that has only three female characters.

There are some strong feminist moments in here that had me cheering early on - Soledad's confidence in her body and sexuality, as well as Taz's encouragement of a little girl who dreams of playing soccer (I'll admit, I teared up a little. I'm a sucker for encouraging girls to follow their dreams!) were big bonuses. And of course, there's the novelty of getting a book about a young woman of color where her ethnic background is an integral part of her character but not the focus of the story. But ultimately the reactions to Jonathan in the end left me feeling on the fence overall. This is an excellent romance in multiple senses of the word - including the cliche of the genre that you shouldn't think too hard about it. Accept that it's hot and sexy and just go with the flow.
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