Now more than ever, in this closed off world the pandemic has forced us to become, I’m constantly looking for ways to escape and learn. Movies, music, and books have become my refuge, especially those that take me somewhere I’ve never gone – realistic or fantastical. This month, I was happy to discover Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar – thanks to Book of the Month for bringing it to my attention!
This YA fantasy debut takes readers into a magical world of stars and Hindu mythology, where one girl must complete a quest to save her dying father.
Sheetal Mistry is an Indian-American teenager living with her astrophysicist father in New Jersey. Her mother – a star named Charumati – left ten years ago to return to her home universes away. Yes, Sheetal is half-mortal, half-star, a fact she must keep secret among the ordinary people on earth. She must hide her glimmering silver hair with black dye, strive never to stand out, and hope that her internal flame doesn’t flare up in front of anyone. But it inevitably does, landing her father in the hospital, comatose and on the verge of death.
To save him, Sheetal journeys to find her mother among the stars. But once she reaches her starry family, Sheetal is forced into a competition to regain power in the cosmic realms. If she can win it, they’ll be able to save her dad.
But Sheetal’s short time among the stars leads her down a rabbit hole of long-buried secrets and conflicts. She’s also learning about herself, and what will happen to her when she turns 17 in just a couple days. What follows is a quest filled with music, revenge, and love. It keeps a rapid pace, spanning just a few days, but packs in a powerful – and magical – punch.
I went into Star Daughter not knowing what to expect. All I knew is I wanted an adventure, something magical and other-worldly. Happily, this book delivered just what I needed.
The novel starts off with normal teenage drama: Sheetal has a strict and driven family, a secret boyfriend (breaking her dad’s rules not to date yet), and a desire to be seen. But already Star Daughter offers hints of the mythical in Sheetal’s identity, and when she starts hearing songs from the stars, beckoning to leave earth, it’s clear we’re in for a dazzling journey.
If you’re expecting the kind of quest that takes its protagonists to a smattering of different locations and continuously introduces new villains and tests, know up-front that Star Daughter is a different kind of fantasy. Instead, Sheetal and her best friend Minal spend three jam-packed days in a heavenly palace, preparing for a competition and learning about her star family’s dark past. Imagine a few days amongst godlike stars, in magical libraries, and managing celestial politics.
One of the highlights of Star Daughter – and the main reason I bought it – is the incorporation of Hindu mythology. I admit, I know very little of Hindu mythology, but I love learning about different cultures, religions, and mythologies. Shveta Thakrar immerses her readers in this world of apsaras and nakshatras and Hindu gods. From the hypnotic Night Market to the astrological settings amongst the stars, the story is filled with rich magic.
In addition to the Hindu astrology and mythology, music plays a big part here. Sheetal and her boyfriend Dev are both musicians; she plays harp and dilruba – plus sings – which will play a part in her competition. But the stars also communicate through song, astral melodies that Sheetal can hear even on earth. This adds to the book’s lyricism and other-worldliness.
Star Daughter, at its core, is about relationships. We get to see close family relationships, but also the tensions between family members and generations. We see family loyalty, but also the chasms that grow wider over time. The friendship between Sheetal and Minal is golden, and the love and breakup between Sheetal and Dev offers a fresh look at romantic relations in YA. Who is friend or foe shifts, presenting people not as heroes and villains, but as imperfect beings who do good and bad.
Finally, Sheetal herself is a strong character who goes through a remarkable transformation in just the few days this book spans. We see her grow more confident and learn to think not just of herself and her problems, but how her actions can impact others. As she learns about her identity and gains better control of herself, she also becomes more self-assured and leaderly.
Star Daughter wraps up nicely, and though it’s a standalone, it leaves room for more imagined paths forward.
I loved reading Star Daughter. It combines some of my favorite things – from music to astrology – and immerses it in a culture and mythology I knew little about. It will transport you to a magical land far away, which is exactly what most of us need in 2020. No matter your age, Star Daughter is an enchanting novel. I can’t wait to read more from Shveta Thakrar in the future!
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