Tuesday, June 2, 2015

"Once Star received his power, the herds of Anok wouldn't be able to control him, and he realized that was the source of their fear."

Reading this made my inner child (who often escapes and runs amok as an outer child, but that's an issue to deal with another day) gleefully, squealingly happy. About the only thing that would've made the whole thing even better would've been the presence of unicorns. But that's just my horse-obsessed inner child speaking.

The story revolves around a very familiar theme, that of loneliness and not belonging and wondering if everyone would be better off if you just ran away. Believe me, as a teenager, I ran the gamut of these emotions, so I could fully empathize with Star, the protagonist of the story. As a black pegasus in a world where black pegasi aren't an everyday occurrence, Star feels like an outcast. Add in an ancient prophecy attached to those rare black pegasi, one of which is born every hundred years, which states that the pegasus foal will either unite or destroy the herds and become the most powerful pegasus in the land, and it's no wonder Star is either shunned or actively bullied by the other foals, not to mention many of the adult pegasi. As a final insult, Star doesn't fully belong to his herd: His mother had been driven away from her herd and was taken in by the Sun Herd, then died after giving birth to Star; the lead mare, Silvercloud, promised Star's mother she'd protect him, a promise she's kept all these years, to the detriment of her relationship with the herd's over-stallion, Thunderwing. So not only is Star concerned about his destiny, he feels guilty for destroying the lives of those protecting him. This makes for one sad, lonely little youngster. The fact that, on top of all these issues, Star is a pegasus who can't fly . . . Well, it's no wonder he feels depressed! In the end, Star comes through his trauma and finds his place in the world, but it's a bumpy road he has to travel before reaching that peak.

This is definitely not a light and fluffy book, an impression one might get upon hearing that it's all about pretty, pretty pegasi. But right from the start, in the first chapter, we deal with bullying and fear and the threat of death. From there the book gives us fighting between herds and even within the herd--fighting that ends in a lot of death--more bullying, physical violence, betrayal and vengeance, near-death experiences due to starvation and infection, a forest fire that kills yet more pegasi . . . you get the picture. But don't be put off and think it's too dark for a kid. Trust me, at heart kids are sociopaths, and I mean that in the most positive way: They're still forming their moral compass and books that show how things can go wrong, how life isn't always fair, but how things like love, compassion, cooperation, and sacrifice can save the day provide helpful guidance. Kids are plastic, elastic, and flexible; they can handle more serious issues that we adults might want to shield them from. But exposure to the darker side of life, even viewed through the lens of fantasy, gives kids a more well-rounded attitude and the potential to cope with any future issues that might befall them. They'll sympathize with Star and root for him even as they growl at Star's enemies, especially Brackentail; they'll cry when things go wrong and yelp for joy when Star finally starts to fulfill his destiny. In short, I can see both girls and boys devouring this book and any follow-up volumes.

I've noticed some people dinging the bit where Star's tears cause flowers to spring up in their wake, complaining it's too far-fetched and silly. Um, we're talking about a book concerning talking pegasi and a star on a hundred-year cycle that gives one particular pegasus a unique power. You're going to complain about the idea of flowers growing from tears? *opens mouth, pauses, shuts mouth and shakes head* Yes, Star's tears bring forth flowers, which I took as an obvious and overt sign that his destiny isn't written by an ancient prophecy. Star's destiny is one he will write every day, one of his own making. A destiny I'm eager to read about in however many sequels Ms. Alvarez decides to write (very, very many, I'm hoping).

Read from June 1 to June 2, 2015
Reviewed June 3, 2015

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