A Review – Eyes Like Stars

The Children’s Book Blog Tour, hosted by Kidz Book Buzz, is featuring Lisa Mantchev‘s first novel, the young adult fantasy Eyes Like Stars. I have to say, some reviews are harder than others, and this one falls into that category.

I supposed the difficulty is compounded by the fact that this book received some wonderful pre-release hype. Reviews were positive, even glowing. And it’s a fantasy! What’s not to like? 😉

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Story. A young foundling girl—mischievous, vivacious, and head-strong Beatrice Shakespeare Smith—grows up in a magical theater with four fairies and a pirate as her best friends. The pirate is actually one of the Players, none of which can leave the theater.

After one particularly destructive prank, Bertie is summoned to the Theater Director’s office. The plan is for him to ask her to leave the theater. But this is the only home she’s known, so she begs for an opportunity to prove she can contribute something essential to the theater.

Bertie comes up with the idea to be the Director (not Theater Director or Stage Director … apparently, the play director) and to re-stage Hamlet in such a way that will pack out the theater. The Theater Director gives her four days and stipulates that she must not only pack out the theater but receive a standing ovation as well.

But as Bertie commences her career as Director, more than she could imagine begins to go wrong.

Strengths. Ms. Mantchev is a talented writer. There are some beautiful lines of prose. The story is inventive. The magical theater can do amazing and unexpected things. The protagonist is a strong character. I don’t think I’ve ever met one like Bertie before. The fairies are fun and funny (though I do get the three guys mixed up with each other). The story is unpredictable. About the time I thought I knew where Ms. Mantchev was taking us, she shifted lanes and headed in a different direction.

Weaknesses. While I love the unpredictable, this story kept me so off balance it was hard to enjoy. I felt like readers who love Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or Through the Looking-Glass might also enjoy Eyes Like Stars, but that’s not me.

Since I hadn’t read anything about the book, I was left to figure out the set up on my own. Where are we? Who are these people? Why can’t the Players leave the theater? By the end, I knew the answers to these questions, but I feel like I lost time. I could not live in this fictive world because I could not imagine what was not suggested.

In addition, I wasn’t sympathetic to the characters. I thought Bertie’s idea to re-constitute Hamlet was a weak idea at best, so it was hard to cheer her on to success. I thought she treated one character in particular in a shabby way, and in fact I didn’t agree with a lot of her decisions. She was a difficult character to like.

Recommendation. So here is a unique, unpredictable story, written with commendable prose … and I didn’t like it very much. In case you’re wondering, there is no attempt at presenting anything comparable to a Christian worldview. Pretty much the protagonist has her own moralistic outlook. She definitely changes and grows, but in the end, I didn’t particularly care.

But here’s the big deal as far as I’m concerned. I wonder how many young adults who are the targeted readers will connect with this story. This is no Harry Potter, with a rich, textured setting and well-defined characters. Bertie is smart and sassy, so maybe, if readers can get beyond the early confusion (e. g. she’s in her dressing room but on stage, with real fairies but they are flying suspended on wires) they’ll like the book well enough. For me, it didn’t live up to the pre-release hype.

Remember, mine is just one opinion. See what others touring Eyes Like Stars have to say:

The 160 Acre Woods, A Patchwork of Books, Abby the Librarian, All About Children’s Books, And Another Book Read, Becky’s Book Reviews, Dolce Bellezza, Fireside Musings, The Friendly Book Nook, Homeschool Book Buzz, Homespun Light, Hyperbole, KidzBookBuzz.com, Never Jam Today, Reading is My Superpower, Through a Child’s Eyes

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