The story of a young trans runaway meeting a woman who has one more soul to gather before she can break out of her contract with a demon, also starring aliens, Unusual starlight is a bizarre and brutally honest book about finding the real you, finding your place in the universe, and the healing power of music.
Unusual starlight, by Ryka Aoki, is described as “Good omens meets The long way to an angry little planet”And wow, is that an accurate comparison. Starring a multitude of characters and narrative perspectives, Aoki weaves the story of Katrina, a trans teenager fleeing an abusive family life, Shizuka, an older than she looks violin teacher to save her life. soul, Lan, an extraterrestrial refugee from the Galactic Empire who owns a donut shop, and Lucia, the daughter of a family that has only passed down her profession through her sons.
This book is strange, that’s for sure. Although I read the summary when I requested a copy for review, I was extremely surprised when the aliens arrived. I read the beginning thinking, “Okay, this girl plays the violin, this violin teacher needs a new student, I see where it’s going”, and then, boom! Extraterrestrials. It was not at all what I expected. But it works.
A mix of fantasy, romance, sci-fi, and contemporary elements (and even a bit of magical realism), this book manages to be full of hope and optimism while not shying away from the realities that are confronted by young queer people of color. Newly transitioned Katrina has horrible experiences and faces a lot of transphobia. (To note: This book contains depictions of sexual assault, use of dead names, and gender abuse.) Although I’m not trans myself, I’ve seen a few. Comments praising the little details of Katrina’s experience, like rationing her hormone intake and worrying about which bathroom to use.
But like I said, it’s also a story of hope. Because Katrina finds a place where she is appreciated when she catches the attention of Shizuka, a violin teacher with a Faustian okay, a soul running out of its market and only a year to do so. Shizuka doesn’t care that Katrina is trans or that her violin was paid for with sex work; all that matters to Shizuka is how Katrina’s game makes her feel. And yes, she intends to harvest Katrina’s soul to fulfill her contract, but no one is perfect.
I also saw that he noted that Unusual starlight is a great tribute to the violin and an accurate representation of the violin community as a whole, focusing on racism (Shizuka is billed as one of the greatest teachers, but Katrina’s Chinese violin is looked down upon), sexism (Lucia runs the family’s violin repair shop, but she was never properly taught because it’s “not for little girls”), and elitism (Katrina had no training formal, and she’d rather play video game music than anything classic).
Told in short excerpts, the book is packed with important themes like connection with others, redemption, the immigrant experience, the benefits of community, the noble art of listening, how uplifting it can be. have an outlet and a voice even in a situation, and how even in dark times you can find a friendly face. But more importantly, it’s imbued with a genuine love of music and food, and an appreciation for their restorative qualities.
I could really go for a donut right now.
Unusual starlight by Ryka Aoki is published by Tor Books and is currently available wherever books are sold.
* I received a pre-copy from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review. All opinions are mine. *
Author: Jamie sugah
Jamie holds a BA in English with a specialization in Creative Writing from Ohio State University. She has self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available on Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York with her demon ninja vampire cat. It covers television, books, movies, cartoons, and conventions in the New York area.
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