Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Book Review: Swearing off Stars

Title: Swearing off Stars
Author: Danielle Wong 
Genre: Historical fiction, LGBTQ 
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

DNF - 60%

It begins solid
Author Danielle Wong begins by setting up a wonderful story in the 1920s of a young woman attending university. Now at this time in history women could attend university but not receive actual degrees or formally recognized education. An awkward time for women. Made more awkward for our lead lady as she discovers she's a lesbian and falls in love. 
This is a dangerous time for gays and only gets more dangerous as WWII approaches and Hitler's persecution of anyone not like him is brewing. 
Wong takes us through the 20s, and the 30s with our leading lady in a way that shows these challenges for lesbians of the time. 

And then it goes all wrong
But then, suddenly, at about 55% of the way through the book, we go from 1939 to 1955 (in America). And the only comment made back to the war is that our lead gal worked as a nurse after work for a few years, and her male childhood friend enlisted and was injured (but survived) battle. At first all I could think was WHAT?!?! Then as I read on I realized that was really all that was going to be said about the war. 

What could have been
Now if I was going to write a book about lesbians trying to emerge into a world where they are not accepted; and started this story in the roaring 20s, I would be sure to have written about the most significant event of the 1900s and used it to delve deeper into the psyche of the lady's POV. But instead Wong made a unforgivable mistake. And one that had me putting the book down in disgust. She skipped over a section of history because it's a messy, difficult and all around nasty time period. 

This is a showing of a weak story teller. While Wong's  prose is acceptable for publication and her characters well formed; the inability to even give us one or two chapters set in the 40s tells me that she assumes her readers will go along with it. As though we all don't know what happened. 

Cheap tactics
It's an unforgivable error, in my mind, to back your way out of a messy situation. Not unlike authors who create time warps, miracle healing or other cheap ways to avoid something they aren't sure how to handle (but still need to have happened). It's even worse in historical fiction as it's not like the basis of the story doesn't exist. You don't even have to creative enough to think up an awful war and dictator invading countries. Because it ACTUALLY happened. 

What could have been
There are so many places this could have gone to involve our gal in the war from her standpoint on American soil. I can imagine her thoughts on prejudice as it pertained to what was happening around her. Maybe some fear from her that someone would find out she was a lesbian during that time and how that would have been more awful than during the 20s. We have Hitler sending (at the very least) any gay man to concentration camps alongside the Jews, armbands to mark their sexual orientation publicly and more. Our leading gal, hearing this unfold (even from a far) must have had thoughts, fears and emotions right?
There are just so many things that could have been written into this story to at least pay some sort of nod to WWII and its influence on the world as a whole. Hitler's reign influenced future discrimination and thoughts profoundly and possibly shaped the course of some of the acceptance in the world that came after. 

Final thoughts
I read a lot of historical fiction, and truth in the main events is very important to me (altered small details are fine). So skipping an entire decade or more would be nearly inexcusable to start with. Never mind skipping the imperative, relevant and world changing decade that was the 40s.
So I am giving up on reading this. Nothing, no matter how good the end is, will convince me it's okay to skip WWII in a historical story. Our history happened whether we like it or not and ignoring it or brushing it off is an insult to those who lived (and died) during that time period.

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review. 

1 comment:

Leonore Winterer said...

Wow...that doesn't seem to smart of an author to leave out what could have easily been the most interesting part of her book! I get why someone would not want to write about WWII, but then, maybe, don't write a book set during that time?