Saturday, August 18, 2012

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

I love Jane Austen and I love Diana Peterfreund. As soon as I heard about this book (a dystopia/sci-fi version of Persuasion), I added it to my TBR piles. Besides Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion is my favorite Austen novel. I love the letters in the novel. I love the side characters and I love how intelligent and wonderful the main character is.
In a world of Austen re-do’s, I know what I can expect. On a rare occasion will something like the movie, Clueless, or the book Bridget Jones’ Diary come to be and shock me back into my Austen obsessions. But, never do these movies or modernizations really quite compare. And then I read some mixed reviews for this book, which caused a level of skepticism on my part. However, Peterfreund’s book does compare to Austen.
I seriously read this in one go. I was so lost in the language, the prolonged romance, the letters, and responsibilities of Elliot, the main character that there were moments where I had to actually remind myself that I was not reading Jane Austen.
The book takes place in the future. And actually, in Elliot’s future there is little to no technology. Because of the mistakes of the people in the past and their experiments with technology, science, and genetics, a large portion of the world’s population is born with severe mental delays. These people are called the Reduced. Its taken several generations, but now in Elliot’s time people are now finally being born with no mental delays or learning disabilities and these people are called Posts.
But despite the fact that people seem to be doing better, technology is still very frowned down upon. The nobility and the ones with power in Elliot’s world are the religious, are the ones in history who kept claiming that people are not God, and that people have no right to change what God has already made. They are against bettering eyesight, they are against machines that cut down on labor, they are against developing advanced medicine, they are against using electricity, or doing anything fast. I kind of pictured a lot of extremely wealthy Amish survivors.
And with the increase in Posts came an increase in a lot of other things. More and more Posts and Reduced start leaving their serving jobs for hopes of a better future. And more and more evidence is showing a slow growth in science again. Elliot is of the upper class, and her childhood sweetheart, Kai, is a Post. The book takes place four years after Kai leaves his position and leaves Elliot to go find freedom. She was supposed to marry him and go with him but at the last minute decided she couldn’t.
Unlike in the original where the main character is persuaded by a well-meaning friend not to follow the one she loves, here, Elliot is persuaded by responsibility to all the Reduced and Posts left on her estate, trapped into miserable lives because of her father. Her father is pretty much evil. After years, though, Kai comes back to the estate, with a new name: Captain Malakai Wentforth and new friends. He’s with a fleet who rent Elliot’s family’s land to build a ship.
It’s clear that Kai has gone through some changes, one of which is to be eternally grumpy and jerk-faced to Elliot.  Seriously, there were moment I literally wished I could jump into the pages and punch him in the face. And the story goes along so well with Persuasion. There’s the same scary moment by the cliffs. There’s the same young neighbor that everyone believes Kai to now be in love with. There’s  the ridiculous family that almost seems impossible to have to link Elliot to.  And there is so much tension between Kai and Elliot. Now of course there’s also star-gazing, ship-building, horse-racing, and out-door concerts.
Also like with Austen, are the letters! Before each new chapter are letters written back and forth between Kai and Elliot from when they first learned how to write up until the day Kai left. While the book stays on track, the letters are mixed around in years and relevance to what’s happening in the story. A lot is explained about the world, about politics, and about Elliot’s awful family in these letters. And it was so nice to get descriptions of things from this style of writing. It was very unique for YA. And of course my favorite letter is the one written by the guy at the end, and Peterfreund has her own beautiful version of it.
I loved the style! I loved the letters. I loved Elliot and all she endured to protect her people. I love that she felt the need to include her Reduced friend at the end. I loved all of Elliot’s mini rebellions with musical instruments and secret letter placements. I loved that she used science to figure out how to save her land and farm. She developed a kind of wheat that would grow better and provide her people with enough food for the upcoming winter. Too bad her father cut it all down to build a stupid racetrack.
I loved the horses. I loved the sad stories of all the Posts you meet who come stay on her lands. I loved her grandfather and how he sort of represented Elliot’s confusion about what was right and wrong. Yes, technology made the Reduced what they were, but what if technology could save lives too, save her grandfather? I loved everything about ship-building and discovering new places. The recurring theme of stars was beautifully executed. The politics and all of the religion versus science debates seemed so probable and so understandable.
The bad characters in this book were so awful and the things that happened to some of the Posts were terrible enough to make me gasp out loud and cry. I felt so bad for Elliot at certain points that I even found myself crying for her. The side characters were wonderful too, and I really found myself cheering for all her friends.
I did find the book a little confusing at first because nothing was described normally. It was mostly described over time in letters and I can see how this would frustrate people. I can also see how people who have never read Persuasion or Austen at all might not like it. It’s all the similarities in style, voice, and wit that truly made this book stand out as something uniquely special. And part of reading Jane Austen is knowing Jane Austen’s formula. Not knowing the formula going into this definitely could mess with what should be your ultimate love for the book as a whole. It gets a 10/10 from me. Really, I was just so impressed here.


  1. Wow. This is a gushing review! I WANTED to feel like that, but for me it was missing something. *weeps in disappointment* I was looking forward to this for ages. It was beautifully done, but I didn't FEEL anything.

    1. Awww. I felt something alright. After reading so many mixed reviews my expectations weren't too high either. I think it's one of my favorite books of the year.