“One more chapter,” I told myself, as the numbers on my bedside digital clock blurred from 8 to 9 to 10. Before I knew it, I was straight through to the end of When the Stars Go Blue, by Caridad Ferrer and it was after 11 o’clock.
Ferrer’s 2006 release Adios To My Old Life is one of my favorite YA reads, with its mix of humor and cultural imagery. And while When the Stars Go Blue is considerably less light in tone, it has that same quality of drawing you in with a heroine’s unique voice and her passion for her art. Soledad is a dancer; all she has wanted her entire life is to join a ballet company. At 5’10, she isn’t built like the more delicate ideal, but she refuses to let that stop her. She refuses to let anything stop her; such is her drive. And when a smitten classmate, Jonathan, offers her the opportunity to play Bizet’s Carmen in his drum & bugle corps’ summer tour, it opens up an entirely new world for her. Particularly when she meets Spanish soccer player, Taz, who gets her in a way that no one besides her grandmother, Mamacita, does.
Soledad’s story is a re-imagining of Carmen, and as she performs it, she is living it. I saw the dark streak in the book fairly on, but what I liked about it is that Ferrer invests us so deeply in Soledad’s goals that we don’t feel like she’s stupid for missing what’s going on around her. You know she’s driven and single-minded and also a teenager falling in love for the first time. Soledad’s strong, she doesn’t take shit. And in places where you would expect her to turn into the textbook simpering girlfriend, she most emphatically doesn’t. She’s a bold character, much like Carmen, painted in vivid strokes. Any nitpicks I might have had with the narrative fell away because Soledad’s voice is so compelling.
My only real questions cropped up with Soledad’s dance partner and confidant on the tour, Raj. And I fully admit this is because of what I, as a reader, brought to the text. He’s very much the stereotypical Sassy Gay Friend… who happens to be Indian. I found myself wondering things like, “Is he out to his family? Is he on the tour so he can be as fabulous as he wants without censure?” Being Indian, gay, and in a drum & bugle corps as a member of the guard (as opposed to playing an instrument) is a whole lotta stuff to carry! We don’t get answers, because his sole purpose is to be Soledad’s talk-to. But it’s in-character for Soledad to be very self-oriented and, therefore, not all that interested in the people around her. We don’t even get to know the corps as a whole, and this is not Raj’s story. I think I was just excited to see a character that doesn’t pop up in fiction in general and, therefore, disappointed we didn’t get a little more development.
But that just means that somebody has to take the initiative to give Indian-American characters the same kind of resonant stories that Caridad Ferrer crafts for her Cuban-American characters!
When the Stars Go Blue is a great, can’t-put-it-down, look at one girl’s determination to live her dreams… and it certainly made me take a good, long look at mine!