Alechia Dow’s YA, music and literature filled. sci-fi debut, The Sound of Stars, lands a bit pitchy with the plot and tone, turning a fun, trope-filled YA road trip into an unharmonious dirge on the depravity of mankind.
When I heard the book’s premise for the first time, I knew I needed to read this story— a secret librarian meets a music-loving alien, and they go on a road trip together across the country. I love books, I love music, and I love sci-fi, what could possibly go wrong with this story!? Quite a bit actually.
The story follows Janelle “Ellie” Baker, a girl in a dystopian world where aliens known as the Ilori have invaded earth and are preparing a vaccine that will transform humans into empty shells for the aliens to inhabit. The living humans are kept locked up in buildings, waiting for the day they are either executed for contraband (i.e. anything involving art and human expression) or taken to a lab and vaccinated. Ellie lives with her family in an Ilori controlled building in what was New York City, and she is the keeper of an illegal secret library. One day, one of her precious books goes missing, and Ellie is sure that she has been found out and will be executed
But then she meets Morris.
Morris is an Ilori labmade— half pure Ilori and half machine, made in the image of humans. He is meant to be emotionless, and have unwavering obedience to the Ilori cause, but he has discovered music. Music means everything to Morris, and he will do whatever it takes to grow his library. Thus, when he finds a girl who loves books as much as he loves music, he decides to seek her friendship instead of delivering her to her execution, risking his own rank and life.
Their illegal activity is soon discovered, and the duo find themselves on the run, driving across the country to California, searching for answers that could save them all.
The major pitfall of this story is that it tried to be everything. It wanted to be a commentary on current racial and social issues, at the same time as being an action, sci-fi adventure, a pop culture filled contemporary, and a teenage road trip romance. The tone flip-flopped all over the place, going from horrifying and sober to sappy teenage romance. This tended to make the novel’s arguments feel preachy rather than a natural part of the story.
Also, the POV switching from first person with Ellie to third person with Morris also came off as jarring. I understand the intent behind this POV change, since Morris is a weird alien, robot-esque hybrid, who’s first language isn’t even English, but it made it difficult to connect with Morris and get to know him. He felt plastic to me, especially in comparison to Ellie’s emotions.
The artificialness of Morris, mixed with Ellie’s introverted, demi-asexual leanings, made their romance feel forced. I wish they could have just stayed friends.
Finally, the ending is just confusing. It made me think of the ending from the movie Interstellar. It felt like it came out of nowhere, and I’m still not sure what happened. The author needed to spend more time setting up the ending, giving more breadcrumbs and whispers of what’s to come, so the reader isn’t broadsided with a deus ex machina.
This story does have some bright spots. Ellie does contain a warmth and a love for books that I find admirable. Not just anyone would have the guts to run a secret library with the threat of execution hanging over their head if discovered. And the road trip across the country reminded me of something like The Last of Us or The Walking Dead, which I am fans of both. So, if you enjoy alien invasions, terrible human beings, precious librarians, and hot alien robots with an affinity for music, this story may be for you.