Review: Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett



Rating: 3 stars
Release Date: April 3, 2018
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Genre: young adult contemporary romance
Format/Source: hardcover, purchased
Status: standalone


Summary:
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?

Review:
I have really complicated feelings about Starry Eyes. I do think it suffered somewhat from my over-high expectations, but at time of reading, it had a 4.36 rating among my friends on Goodreads, which is even higher than the overall rating at 4.04. So I was expecting spectacular, and I got spectacular... but also some not-so-spectacular. When Starry Eyes is good, it is amazing. When it's not good, it's bleh.

One of the most frustrating things about Starry Eyes is that it took me forever to connect with this story. The beginning was interminably slow, and I think at least half of the first 200 pages could have been done away with. I knew when I got to the parts with Zorie and Lennon alone together that it would be great; it just took SO LONG to get there. I didn't love having to wait until part 3 for the good stuff. And there are only 3 parts in the book so I had to sit through parts 1 (100 pages of exposition and setting up the camping trip) and 2 (100 pages of a mostly obnoxious group of teens making bad decisions) before getting to the good stuff I was so looking forward to.

I want to be clear that I'm not annoyed with the teens making bad decisions (although at points I was literally yelling at the book because they were making Really Bad Decisions like stealing 10 bottles of wine from a bar and, I don't know, ABANDONING TWO PEOPLE IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE) because they're teens. It's just that in particular Reagan and Brett were very flat characters who obviously only there for plot development (Reagan to arrange the camping trip and Brett to be Zorie's obnoxious crush). I think if they'd been a little more developed, the conflict would have felt more real, and I would have not just tolerated those scenes in the book but possibly enjoyed them. The only thing that kept me going especially in the second hundred pages was uncovering the mystery of homecoming and the promise of Zorie and Lennon kissing.

Thankfully, part 3 absolutely saved Starry Eyes for me. Zorie and Lennon are wonderfully fleshed out, complex, compelling characters with fascinating interests, oodles of chemistry and history simmering between them. So why was all that reduced to about 150-ish pages of over 400?!?!? I WANTED MORE, DAMNIT. Don't give me this douchey wannabe Jack Kerouac blowhard instagram dudebro Brett as a viable romantic interest. Give me real interactions between the characters that matter! There are just so many things to like about Zorie and Lennon as characters. I'm a sucker for all things astronomy so I loved that Zorie enjoyed it so much. I loved Lennon with his moms and absolutely ADORED the relationship between Zorie and Joy. I love seeing awesome step-parents in YA. Not everyone is Cinderella's Lady Tremaine! They truly have something special. I also really enjoyed all the inside jokes and stories that Zorie and Lennon reflected on together. It was cool to see bits of their history without flashbacks. Their reminiscing kept the story in the present while giving context to their estrangement and their families' feud.

The overall plot of Starry Eyes is pretty strong, which is why I'm sad we didn't get more of it. That stuck-in-the-mountains survival story is interesting and not something I've read a lot of in YA contemporaries although it's found in a lot of children's and adult novels. I love to see rom coms go outside the box with settings and storylines, and I think Starry Eyes set itself apart with a sexy camping adventure. I also absolutely adore Jenn's illustrated maps! Not many contemps are allowed those extra special design details by publishers. I think they added a really fun element to the book, and I thought it was cool that we could literally track Zorie and Lennon on their journey. Beautiful special touch.

A major reason I didn't love Starry Eyes is more personal, and definitely everyone else's mileage may vary here. I simply have a hard time reading books with cheating story lines. If I had known going in that affairs were such a big part of the book, I really don't think I would have read it. That's not the fault of the book or the author, just a personal preference that hit really hard. If that's a hot button topic for you too, I would give this one a pass.

Overall, I found Starry Eyes to be a mixed bag. It has really incredible highs and really frustrating low. I think my high expectations set me up for disappointment so I'll try be a bit more cautious the next time I see a book rated so highly among my friends. It's frustrating, but even when a book has all the elements we think will make us love it, sometimes the pieces don't quite fit into the wondrous final product we expect. It's a good lesson in managing expectations. But if you think Starry Eyes might be for you, by all means, give it a try! It's sexy and thoughtful and bursting with chemistry between two charming main characters. Based on the good parts, I'll definitely give Jenn's other YA books a try and hope they'll be a little more to my liking.

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About the Author:
Jenn Bennett is an award-winning author of young adult contemporary romance books, including: Alex, Approximately; The Anatomical Shape of a Heart; and Starry Eyes. She also writes romance and urban fantasy for adults (the Roaring Twenties and Arcadia Bell series). Her books have earned multiple starred reviews, won the Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA® Award, garnered two Reviewers’ Choice awards and a Seal of Excellence from RT Book Reviews, and been included on Publishers Weekly Best Books annual list. She lives near Atlanta with one husband and two dogs.

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5 comments:

  1. Mary, I hope you love Jenn Bennett's other books. My favorite of hers is Alex, Approximately. I totally get where you're coming from with Starry Eyes. While I still liked it, it's definitely my least favorite of Bennett's. I also thought the third part was the best in the book. Zorie and Lennon's chemistry really saved the book for me!

    Genni @ Ready, Set, Read!

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    1. I hope I love her other books too! I have copies of all of them so my fingers are crossed!

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  2. I LOVED Starry Eyes and rated it five stars because I was so enamored by the chemistry between the two main protagonists, but now I wonder if I reread it if I would find the first two parts to drag because you are completely right- those parts were full of terrible decisions and terrible characters who were terrible for the sake of plot. I don't change my rating upon rereads but I think I came out of this one with rose colored glasses on because I enjoyed the ship so much but would probably be more critical during a reread.

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    1. I sometimes change my ratings during a reread, but I hope you don't like it less because of me! They definitely had a ton of chemistry, which was awesome. I just had a personal issue with a few things, but that's on me, not the book.

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  3. I have a couple Jenn Bennett books and I've heard nothing but great things about them. I look even more forward to reading this book now.

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