Publisher: Dutton Books
Publication Date: September 17th 2019
Format: Physical / Audiobook
Told in two distinct and irresistible voices, Junauda Petrus’s bold and lyrical debut is the story of two black girls from very different backgrounds finding love and happiness in a world that seems determined to deny them both.
Trinidad. Sixteen-year-old Audre is despondent, having just found out she’s going to be sent to live in America with her father because her strictly religious mother caught her with her secret girlfriend, the pastor’s daughter. Audre’s grandmother Queenie (a former dancer who drives a white convertible Cadillac and who has a few secrets of her own) tries to reassure her granddaughter that she won’t lose her roots, not even in some place called Minneapolis. “America have dey spirits too, believe me,” she tells Audre.
Minneapolis. Sixteen-year-old Mabel is lying on her bed, staring at the ceiling and trying to figure out why she feels the way she feels–about her ex Terrell, about her girl Jada and that moment they had in the woods, and about the vague feeling of illness that’s plagued her all summer. Mabel’s reverie is cut short when her father announces that his best friend and his just-arrived-from-Trinidad daughter are coming for dinner.
Mabel quickly falls hard for Audre and is determined to take care of her as she tries to navigate an American high school. But their romance takes a turn when test results reveal exactly why Mabel has been feeling low-key sick all summer and suddenly it’s Audre who is caring for Mabel as she faces a deeply uncertain future.
Junauda Petrus’s debut brilliantly captures the distinctly lush and lyrical voices of Mabel and Audre as they conjure a love that is stronger than hatred, prison, and death and as vast as the blackness between the stars.
Finished copy provided by Penguin Random House in exchange for my honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review
🚨TRIGGER/ CONTENT WARNING:🚨
“Let the pain leave out of you with each breath. It want to be free too,”
That was what I was as I read and listened to The Stars and the Blackness Between Them. A story of two girls facing different things but finding themselves and love in the midst of it. In Petrus’ debut, readers meet Audre, a girl who has fallen in love and found religion in her new friend Neri, the pastor’s granddaughter. However, after being exposed, Audre’s religious mother sends her from Trinidad to Minneapolis to live with her father, where she must leave everything she knows and her beloved grandmother and start anew in the United States with the Farther she barely knows. Readers are also met with Mabel, a young girl with a loving family, a fascination with Whitney Houston and a struggle to figure out just what her sexuality looks like and is. As these two stars collide and their lights intertwine, these girls receive life altering news that takes the story and the characters to places they would never imagine.
“Protect your heart and spirit. You is open and that is powerful but also vulnerable.”
This novel felt like a coming home. Growing up in a Caribbean family I felt a kinship and deep connection to Audre as she navigated her way through two different cultures and trying to maintain her roots while also figuring out who she is. The way that Petrus embeds the accent and vernacular into the storyline was both effortless and natural. Listening to the audiobook as I read along felt like I was transported back home with my family all gathered in the kitchen as Audre told me her truth.
Though I connected with Audre, I was invested in the life and story of Mabel. Her struggle is one that gripped my heart and kept me turning the page as I watched life hit her with pain. Her perspective was raw, powerful, and yet filled with life as we got the chance to experience the ups and downs of her figuring out her attraction and sexuality.
“We was a cosmic conversation. Before I even met you in this life.”
The author uses a non linear storyline as well as the two main supporting characters, Queenie and Afua, to delve into the complexities of life and spirituality. These elements pushed the story forward in such a natural way that made the prose that much more lyrical. Told with such richness and power, you are hooked from beginning to end in the emotions and touches of magical realism that captivate this novel in its subtleties.
Petrus does an amazing job not only bringing to life these characters and defining them, but also bringing about moments within the novel that readers aren’t often met with, especially when handled in such a normal and natural way. I loved Petrus didn’t hide or shun away from the topic of female masturbation or taking a moment very early on to explain they/them pronouns and show just how much times are changing on this spectrum of society.
“Come Here U Rebel, Come Here.”
I do need to reiterate that this book does show the struggle and battle of cancer as well as brings up questions and discussions of death and mortality. As a person who has walked alongside a family member through cancer, this was at times hard to read; and subsequently, I did have to step away and practice self care. There are also moments of homophobia that should be noted as well which can be triggering for some. I implore you to always practice self care before, during, and after reading!
With that said, this book was deep as it was powerful and probably one of my top reads of 2019 thus far. The Stars and the Blackness Between Them is a lyrical story that will uproot you and bewitch you all at the same time. I highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone willing to learn something about themselves and the complexities of life and the heart.
Huge thank you to Penguin Random House for sending me a finished copy for my honest review!