Sunday, March 4, 2012

Thoughts on Oh My Stars by Lorna Landvik

Or, "The blogger objectivity debate comes home to roost." must have a sense of humor because it was supremely funny that Oh My Stars by Lorna Landvik happened to be the book that I was reading the most recent time the whole "blogger reviews aren't objective enough" thing came up.  A thing which, from my reading of it, has much less to do with actual objectivity and subjectivity than it does with some bloggers liking to get out their snarky face from time to time and have a roast/public shaming of an author whose book they found to be atrocious.  I, of course, don't sanction the whole merciless snarking of any unfortunate authors under the guise of "reviewing" their books regardless of whether said books are or aren't atrocious in one person's or even several people's opinions, but I do think a review is by nature subjective, and nothing could illustrate that better than my experience with Oh My Stars. 

Really, it shouldn't take any measure of genius for you to realize that what you're getting here when I review (if I dare be so bold as to call my discourse on books here reviewing, which, um, I do) a book is my opinion.  I can dress it up all pretty with flowery language and the occasionally overused pretentious book reviewerly phrases.  I can back it up with what I consider to be solid evidence from the book itself.  I can balance the "good" and the "bad" aspects of the book for you and event point out the more winning aspects of some of the books I really didn't end up liking at all, but at the end of the day, you're getting one thing.  My opinion.

So, here's Oh My Stars, the story of a young girl named Violet growing up during the Great Depression.  She was never a pretty girl to start with, and when she loses her arm in a factory accident (this is not a spoiler, it happens on pretty much the first page of the book), she can no longer bear the torment of schoolmates and family alike who malign her missing arm, her horsey face, her somewhat freakish height.  Determined that life is no longer worth living considering that nobody loves her, not even her no-good father, she gets on a bus and sets off for California where she has decided to pitch herself off the Golden Gate Bridge.  Before that can happen, the bus wrecks in a nowhere sort of town in North Dakota, and the path of Violet's life changes forever.  Before she knows it she's managing a the hottest new band that's breaking down barriers to racial integration all over the states and finding love in a place she never would have expected.

If I were going to sit here and type you up an "objective" review of Oh My Stars you would probably wonder why I even passed the 50 page mark without jettisoning it in favor of more quality reading.  It would be no great challenge to snarkily tear it page from page telling you all about how Landvik relies on a healthy dose of stereotype, depends on you to suspend a great deal of your disbelief, and exaggerates her characters to caricature-like proportions at times.  I could point out that the things that happen to Violet are always either so very bad or so very good that it seems totally improbable.  I could ponder the lack of a realism in that a band composed of both white and black members could play clubs in the Deep(ish) South in the 30s and somehow play such good music that nobody got killed.  You could then comment that "gosh, this book sounds rotten.  I wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole," and we could close the door on the whole matter.

There's just one thing, though.  I really liked it.  Despite its many flaws, if I had to pick my best book of the year so far, it's likely this one would take the cake ahead of several books that in writing and style are technically much better.  But, Oh My Stars, it just has a certain je ne sais quoi that I quickly embraced.  Maybe it's Landvik's conversational writing style that flows without interruption and makes the book hard to put down.  Maybe it's the foreshadow-y way she uses Violet's first person voice looking back on events interchangeably with a third person that gives the bigger picture as events unfold.  Maybe it's the characters who, when not wandering about in caricature-ville, are original, compelling and lovable.  I loved Kjel's optimism and his willingness to love even the most unlovable.  It was refreshing to read about a guy who was good but not perfect. I loved Austin whose expansive vocabulary is the exact opposite of what people would expect from a black man in the 30s.  I even loved Austin's prickly brother Dallas, who could be funny as often as he could be cruel.  Watching Violet blossom from the closed up, hopeless, angry person she started out as into the strong, funny girl who can negotiate contracts with club owners is also a pleasure.  The unlikely foursome's idyllic summer together seemed as enchanting to me as if I was there myself, and I was swallowed up by the lives of three passionate musicians on the road making a name for themselves.  I was so taken by Oh My Stars that I laughed and I cried, and I was sad that it was over even if my objective mind could recognize flaws popping up all over the place.

What's a good, objective book reviewer supposed to do with that?  I'm not sure if I would have recommended this to myself much less to other people.  Objectively, I would have to acknowledge this book is far from perfect, but my good old-fashioned subjective opinion in hindsight is that it's a fine read that I'm so glad I didn't miss.  I guess that leaves it up to you to decide!  ;-)



  1. I would much rather hear your subjective opinions because you know what - that is what matters. Books are about emotions and about feeling what you read and that is inherently subjective. And I am going to check this book on amazon because if it made you feel something, it might do the same for me - technically well-written or not.

  2. A book that you can get lost in is better than a technically well written book any day if you ask me.

  3. Oh Megan, you are a freakin' treasure!!! If I haven't told you lately, I adore you! And this review illustrates one of the reasons why. You make me smile! And not just smile smile. But smile right down into my heart. Seriously, this was just a joyous review, and I have a feeling I would positively love this book. So thanks again, for being you!

  4. How can a review NOT be subjective? Of COURSE it's subjective, it's someone's OPINION!

    And I echo Debi's sentiment—you're hilarious and I love reading everything you write :)