❈ Huge thanks to Simon & Schuster for providing me with an ARC in exchange for a fair review ❈
Title: Starry Eyes
Author: Jenn Bennett
Release Date: April 4th 2018
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Content Warning: Suicide reference, D-slur, Lesbophobia
Ever since last year’s homecoming dance, best friends-turned-best enemies Zorie and Lennon have made an art of avoiding each other. It doesn’t hurt that their families are the modern day, Californian version of the Montagues and Capulets.
But when a group camping trip goes south, Zorie and Lennon find themselves stranded in the wilderness. Alone. Together.
What could go wrong?
With no one but each other for company, Zorie and Lennon have no choice but to hash out their issues via witty jabs and insults as they try to make their way to safety. But fighting each other while also fighting off the forces of nature makes getting out of the woods in one piece less and less likely.
And as the two travel deeper into Northern California’s rugged backcountry, secrets and hidden feelings surface. But can Zorie and Lennon’s rekindled connection survive out in the real world? Or was it just a result of the fresh forest air and the magic of the twinkling stars?
Starry Eyes was like drinking ice-cold water during my Young Adult reading drought. Jenn Bennett gave depth, quality (yet elusive) best friends to enemies to lovers, and a ton of swoon-worthy moments under the stars. And maybe I cried. Don’t tell anyone.
Despite that all those things, I took issue major issue with one part of the book― the handling of the “challenged” Lesbophobia. I can’t talk about my love of Starry Eyes without addressing it. I’m a reviewer. It’s my job to address the thing that put a major taint on how I feel about Starry Eyes. And I’ll be talking about it first.
UPDATE: Jenn Bennett said that the D-slur will be removed from future editions of Starry Eyes, so that’s great news!! I will still be leaving my discussion about the Lesbophobia below for documentation.
Lennon has two moms: Sunny & Mac. Starry Eyes doesn’t have some conversation piece about their relationship. It’s there, and normal. However, the problem of lesbophobia arises — which is challenged in the book — from Zorie’s dad.
I have a problem with the lesbophobia, even if it’s challenged in the book. Zorie’s dad calls them “D*ke heathens”. This scene does not take place during the timeline of the book, and one of the characters tells Zorie that her father said that.
I found the situation upsetting for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, I don’t think using the d-slur was necessary in any way, shape, or form. Starry Eyes is a M/F Romance. Neither main character is a lesbian. Lennon’s moms are the only characters in a F/F relationship in the book. The slur shouldn’t have any place in the book. I have a huge problem with how the D-slur is treated as a “”throwaway”” kind of thing. There are other ways to show a character is a lesbophobe than using that slur. Saying that Zorie’s dad was a lesbophobe would’ve been enough to get the point across without dehumanizing lesbians further.
Authors who aren’t lesbians shouldn’t be putting that slur in the book, especially not one who is writing a central M/F Romance. As a bi woman, I’m alarmed at how casually words like this are thrown around. I can’t imagine being a lesbian going into a M/F Romance with side F/F representation, only to be subjected to a violent slur without warning.
With adding in explicitly challenged homophobia in general, I feel like there’s become this “pass” for authors who aren’t in the community to use slurs, their excuse being, “oh, it was challenged”. It’s really concerning to me when authors, who have never had that slur used against them, feel like it’s okay to add it in their book for shock value.
This portion of my review will be a little be different from what you’re used to on Lacy Literacy. Recently, I’ve been wanting to switch up how I review on here. In light of that, I decided to talk about all the things I loved about Starry Eyes through spelling out the word “STARS”. For each letter, I will be sharing one stellar aspect of the book. Plus, a lot of what made me love Starry Eyes, is spoiler-y content. No one is a fan of spoilers, which means I can conveniently allude to them without giving away everything.
S is for Swoon-worthy
Moments of “I want to cuddle this book” are a rare occurrence in my life. Starry Eyes produced at least 5 of them because of the Romance AND the heart of the book itself.
As a Romance reader, I love high stake moments. Jenn Bennett gave us no shortage of them. I won’t get too much into it, but there’s a certain scene while they’re in the woods and a storm hits……… Oh, my. Often, people are hesitant towards big, dramatic~ scenes because it can fall into “”unrealistic”” territory. Starry Eyes excels because those high stakes moments were well placed and developed the story. There was a perfect balance of emotional development to go along with them.
God, I want to hug Zorie and Lennon. They clearly cared deeply for each other, making it impossible not to become invested. Lennon was also major heart eyes 😍 😍 .
T is for True Life
Jenn Bennett’s deception of Zorie’s Anxiety and Chronic Urticaria (which is chronic hives), was one of the highlights from Starry Eyes. Zorie’s Anxiety manifested itself through Zorie’s need to plan for everything. All of her success rides on the follow through of her meticulously though-out calendar. My anxiety comes out in the same type of way. Seeing Zorie coping with the fact that she’s stuck in the wilderness — very much not according to plan — was comforting (although it probably wasn’t for her). Also, she had to manage her Chronic Urticaria and treating it while lost in the wilderness. Stuck in the Wilderness books I’ve read don’t address the fact that some people have chronic conditions and that being stuck in the wilderness would, you know, make it hard for them to use medication. I liked that Starry Eyes touched on that b
ecause that would be a very real problem if I somehow ended up lost in the wilderness 😂.
Also, the fact that LENNON BROUGHT CONDOMS IN THE WILDERNESS was kind of amazing. Romances with sex safe are refreshing to see, especially in YA. Lennon’s moms also own a sexy toy shop!!!! I loved seeing more normalization of sex toys and the places that sell them.
A is for Astrophysics
What had me most excited about Starry Eyes was the fact that the heroine wanted to be an Astrophysicist. Heroines working in Astronomy & Physics in Romance is a rarity. In Young Adult Romance, they’re nonexistent.
STEM heroines can be iffy. Many books will run on the “I have no interest but doing lab work” trope (which is valid for some of us, but hardly warrants making all of us like that). Starry Eyes definitely wasn’t that. Zorie was involved in her school astronomy club, hung out at the observatory, did astrophotography, and had a telescope named after Nancy G. Roman. All of that was kind of, really, totally 100% amazing.
Zorie’s love of the stars felt natural. Her love of science didn’t turn into that mechanical, generic female scientist #2 trope kind of thing. The fact that she was into astrophotography made me ecstatic too. As a college student working towards an astrophysics degree, Zorie was a ton of fun to read about.
R is for Relationships
The relationships in Starry Eyes were god tier. Zorie and Lennon’s was, of course, amazing and swoon-worthy…. Even so, the relationships Zorie and Lennon had with the people around them were by far by favorite.
Relationships that fall apart don’t always get pieced back together. That’s life. We don’t get to 100% rebuild relationships after trauma, and then wrap up it with a red bow on top all the time. Starry Eyes shows that.
Zorie had a few difficult relationships. At the end of Starry Eyes, not everything is resolved, which was comforting to see. In some circumstances, the best we can get in our relationships with people is the knowledge that there may never be a resolution and knowing that’s okay. Zorie was at peace with how her strained relationships played out. I would love to see more of that type of resolution in books.
On the bright side, Zorie does have supportive relationships. My favorite of her relationships was with her mother Joy. Joy & Zorie’s relationship felt like found family. Joy is technically Zorie’s stepmother, but it’s very much evident that they love each other like blood.
S is for Searchable
Map fans, Starry Eyes is for you.
Often, contemporaries don’t take advantage of the fact that maps aren’t solely for Fantasy. But, Starry Eyes has gorgeous maps about.
Seriously, I loved the thought that went into the maps. Even if you’re not the person who feels like they need maps to enjoy a story, the illustrations are beautifully done to the point of “you need to look at them or you’re missing out”. AND MAKE SURE YOU LOOK AT THE ONE AT THE END OF THE BOOK.