Synopsis from Goodreads
Julia Cape: A dedicated classical piano student just trying to get through her last semester of high school while waiting to hear from music conservatories.
Reed MacAllister: A slacker more likely to be found by the stoners’ tree than in class.
Julia and Reed might have graduated high school without ever speaking to each other…until, during a class discussion of Romeo and Juliet, Julia scoffs at the play’s theme of love at first sight, and Reed responds by arguing that feelings don’t always have to make sense. Julia tries to shake off Reed’s comment and forget about this boy who hangs with the stoner crowd—and who happens to have breathtaking blue eyes—but fate seems to bring the two together again and again. After they share an impulsive, passionate kiss, neither one can deny the chemistry between them. Yet as Julia gets closer to Reed, she also finds herself drawn into his dark world of drugs and violence. Then a horrific tragedy forces Julia’s and Reed’s families even farther apart…and Julia must decide whether she’s willing to give up everything for love.
Let me start by saying that unfortunately I don’t think free verse works in e-book format. The reason for this is that the words in free verse form a pattern on the page, sweeping you along with the story, the shapes of the words and the use of white space within free verse always add a dynamic element in the prose that I found lacking in the ebook version.
As this is a re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet while reading you are inevitably awaiting the tragedy to strike. Told in first person narrative from Julia’s point of view. A musical prodigy dedicated to the piano from a very young age. Her dedication is admirable but it does control her life, she isn’t a sociable person on the whole and tends to life in her head more than interacting with others even her parents. In all honesty I didn’t like Julia very much, I didn’t connect with her and found her actions questionable for most of the story.
On the other hand I adored the love interest in the form of Reed; the complete opposite of Julia in social and economical standing yet he was far easier to relate to. I didn’t agree with his choices either but at least there was an understanding within the prose as to why he made the decisions he did. In the main part it was taken out of his hands and he was a product of his environment. The whole nature versus nurture debate in full force, it made me question if Reed every really stood a chance. I wanted a happy ending for him more than anything. The phrase ‘Don’t Judge A book by it’s cover’ certainly applies to Reed. I did think that the drug use was slightly glorified, even though the effects were shown they didn’t pack the same punch as Ellen Hopkins Crank.
The class divide was vividly portrayed and proved that it still exists perhaps it always will, the prose really provided food for thought on a number of issues ranging from social/economical divide to the use of drugs. The insight provided into the trials and tribulations of navigating social situations showed the similarities in situations experienced by both the privileged and poor, something I hadn’t previously considered; when you don’t have money you only think that to have money would make you happier there’s the thing it can’t buy happiness. The difference in Julia’s life compared to Reed’s does soften Julia as a character and makes here appreciate things she had previously taken for granted.
Quotes from Romeo and Juliet are placed at the chapter headings and re-enforced the story-line doubly impacted by the use of the play within the classroom setting where the characters give their opinion on the original.
As always with free verse I am impressed with the use of simile and metaphor enabling the imagery to be conveyed within few words. The family relationships are the cornerstone in Romeo and Juliet and giving credit to Stephanie Parent they were equally dynamically and symbolically portrayed within Defy the Stars.
My favorite part of Defy the Stars was the use of music, the way in which the history of music added to the main plot really appealed to me. I loved how music was shown to bridge the gap in social standing. Also the use of music to evoke memories both good and bad, all the emotions tied to certain songs. This is something I definitely relate to.
On the whole an interesting re-imagining of the tragedy that is Romeo and Juliet.