When Stars Are Bright by Amber R. Duell is a magical retelling of Thumbelina, set in 1930.
When Stars Are Bright is a reimagining of Thumbelina. Lina is 17 years old and is a farm worker, picking tulips in Leids, Holland, in 1930. She lives alone with her mother and has been sneaking out to see her boyfriend, Christian, for over a year. He is the heir to the Van Buren petroleum fortune, and both Lina’s mother and Christian’s family disapprove of the match. When Christian tries to introduce Lina to his family for the first time, it’s a total disaster — and Lina breaks up with him. Before she can speak to him and try to repair things, she is kidnapped by a stranger. He claims she is a Symric and takes her to New York to try and make a fortune from her singing talents.
I absolutely LOVED this book! Like, everything about it was perfect. I would say that while this is described as a retelling of Thumbelina, it’s a very loose retelling. I wouldn’t have known it was supposed to be unless I had read the blurb first.
In many of these YA fantasy stories, the main character is kidnapped or goes through some other awful thing – and then it gets forgotten about really quickly. In this story, her kidnapping impacts her throughout the book. She is constantly on edge, looking for Walter (her kidnapper), she has nightmares, she gets panic attacks. Everyone is incredibly shocked at what happened and disgusted with Walter for doing that to her. This seemed incredibly realistic to me and I really appreciated that such a HUGE, terrifying event wasn’t downplayed or normalised.
I barely remember what sleep is anymore. For me, it’s lying down inside a torture chamber and waiting for the pain to start. Sometimes it doesn’t even wait until my eyes are closed to send the nightmares. Shadows crawl out of dark corners, inching along the room, leaving me curled into a ball, weeping. If those few hours when exhaustion wins count as sleep, I’ll get right on it.
(It’s not a dark book, but it does have some dark moments like that.)
Walter himself was REALLY chilling: “Act like you’re doing nothing wrong, and no one questions you. For all they know, you’re my daughter. Maybe my wife. I don’t seem concerned with what they think so they assume I’m doing nothing wrong. It’s all about perception.” Throughout her kidnapping I was genuinely afraid for Lina and what Walter might do next. He has absolutely no remorse for what he’s done, and again, I liked that other characters acknowledge that this is WRONG. When he brings her to Madame Augustine, she says: “You stole a girl from her home, gifted or not. I’m incredibly troubled you don’t see a problem with this.” — and fires him and his mother from the troupe.
Strangers don’t believe Lina. When she is on the boat, Walter claims he is taking Lina to New York for specialist treatment as she is ill. A few times during the journey, she escapes and tries to tell someone that she is kidnapped, but no one believes her. She also approaches a policeman and asks for help — and again, she isn’t believed. This was also really frightening and I sympathised with her throughout.
I really liked Lina as a character, too. I think she is incredibly brave and fairly level-headed throughout her whole ordeal. The romance is really well-written and feels realistic — both the conflict that Lina feels and that it’s not an ‘instant spark’. I loved that there is a gay couple in the story (given that this is set in the 1930s, I hadn’t expected that). I loved how magic is described in this book and the danger that Lina faces because of hers. The story is pretty fast-paced with no dull moments, and I loved the ending. There was really nothing about this book that I didn’t like and I’d say it’s one of the best books I’ve read so far this year! I’m so hyped about it and all fans of YA fantasy need to read this!
The blurb for When Stars are Bright
For Lina Holt, a Dutch seventeen-year-old with a flair for singing, 1930 is going to be her year. Her long-time boyfriend is about to propose and her mother will finally realize their relationship isn’t a passing phase. But when a stranger snatches her from her backyard, everything changes.
Lina is thrust into the spotlight of a New York vaudeville show where she’s paired with Nik, a mysterious pianist. The two bond during rehearsals and it doesn’t take long before Nik puts himself at risk to confess a hidden truth. Without Lina, the show is in its last season and there’s no way she’ll be allowed to slip through the owner’s fingers. Not when she carries fairy magic in her blood—an gift that turns her song into a dangerously addictive drug.
If Lina ever wants to return home, she must learn who to trust before she’s forced to remain a prisoner on stage forever.
When Stars Are Bright is a historical Thumbelina retelling with a touch of magic.
About the author, Amber R. Duell
Amber R. Duell is a native of Central New York but currently lives in Mississippi with her husband and two sons. She survives on caffeine and baked goods. When not reading or writing, she enjoys snowboarding, embroidering, staying up way too late to research genealogy, and discovering real-life adventures.