Review by Dan Tarnowski
See All The Stars is a debut work of YA fiction by Kit Frick. It is billed as “part love story, part suspenseful thriller.” The blurb describes an intense and complex coming-of-age story involving four teenage women. “What happened then to make Ellory so broken now?” The plot follows headstrong Ellory’s life between “then” and “now.”
The chapters of the 305-page young adult fiction novel alternate back and forth between “then” and “now”, past and present. The “then” chapters recap Ellory’s junior year of high school in bits and pieces, and the “now” chapters depict her subsequent senior year, showing the aftermath of “then.”
The fractured plot makes the book somewhat slow to build steam, especially as most of the story is told through Ellory’s thoughts, thus turning fiction’s “show rather than tell” convention upside down. As the groundwork for the “then and now” plot is laid, we learn about Ellory’s group of friends, her high school routine, and her unique relationship with her best friend, Ret. Kit Frick’s poetic language is displayed from the get go, and this voice, part image-heavy, part wittily penetrating observer, becomes a compelling layer in the world of See All The Stars (“The green flecks in his eyes flashing like marble glass signaling yes, yes, yes”).
The early chapters of the book contain a frustrating minimum of action-oriented scenes – a party, and Ellory’s first date with Matthias, to name two – which whet our appetite, but given the seemingly ample ingredients for juicy drama and conflict in the universe of these characters, a conventional sense of rising action is not established. Rather than a strong inertia or a series of dramatic highs, a sense of realism is sustained. This cerebral, analytical style and steady pace serves to craft a complex plot involving many knots of who said what, and situations seen from different characters’ perspectives. The details mandate a close reading, and while it’s all interesting, it’s not always clear why certain things are being focused on, until a thread is picked up again later on.
We are repeatedly updated on Ellory’s internal conflict, as more details about her and her friends’ lives unfold. We know, as we piece together the details, that we are reading the “before” and “after” of some kind of emotional breakdown, but we will not know what happened, and exactly who did what, until the author drops in the remaining pieces of the story. In the meantime, various characters weave in and out of the plot, as we follow Ellory’s daily life – her thoughts in school as she deals with the fallout of the crisis, her navigation of her first romantic relationship, and her attempts to make the nice with, while also setting boundaries against, realistically flawed characters.
While a lot is going on between the somewhat large cast of characters, and the conceptual plot, I started to find that the essence of this story wasn’t generated through juicy plot elements, or through alluring visuals, but through placing us in the narrator’s head as she learns how to make decisions about how to deal with people. It comes together gradually, but what develops is a precise and relatable story about personal relationships and growth.
See All the Stars was published August 14th 2018 by McElderry Books.
The Furious Gazelle received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.