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Book Review: “I Defy You, Stars” by Katie M. John

Description:

Amber is Juliet’s best friend, always has been, but then a series of terrible events expose Juliet’s life as nothing more than an intricate lie; and those she believed to be friends, have been the very worst kind of enemies. At sixteen, accused of murder, and her whole family breaking down around her, Juliet’s only hope is Rafe, the boy she met just a few weeks before. The only problem is, he is her potential stepbrother, and she’s falling for him hard. At eighteen, Rafe is saving for the trip of a lifetime before embarking on the exciting world of university and adulthood. But, his friendship with best friend, Cutz, street artist, social anarchist, and street fighter, lures Rafe into an underground world, where he not only gets to exorcise his demons, but his frustrations over his love for Juliet. As stresses, fears, and adult life come crashing down around them, Rafe and Juliet face an inevitable high-speed journey into tragedy.

A story of Love, Poetry, Shakespeare, Street Fighting, Murder, and Breaking All The Rules.

PG – This an Upper YA Contemporary work. Due to the context of character and cultures explored in this novel, there is a fairly high usage of expletives, and there are scenes of a more sexual nature. It is recommended for a more mature teen audience. Age 15]

About the Author

Katie lives in London with her husband and their two daughters. She was born in Yorkshire, raised in Lincolnshire and has spent her adult life living in the London suburbs. She works as a part time teacher of secondary school level English and Media studies; a profession that she loves and writes in her (rare) spare time. Writing has always been a part of her life;  at the age of fifteen she worked on a collection of poems called  ‘Mythologies’ and has since gone on to write an Amazon UK best-selling Young Adult fairy tale series called, The Knight Trilogy and stand alone novels, Beautiful Freaks, a Paranormal Gothic Detective novel, and When Sorrows Come, a very contemporary tragedy, loosely based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  She is currently working on book one of a seven book series called, The Meadowsweet Chronicles’, which is a tale of modern witchcraft, blending American and English occult folklore, and is about to embark on penning her first adult horror novel called, The Scarecrow, a disturbing traditional psychological horror story.

She has had several of her short stories and poems published by Nexus Press, Hall Entertainment and Wild Goose Publishing, and had work featured in the online e-zine, Sirens Call.

Katie is also the founder of the Dark Heart & Nightshade project, which involves the publication of two anthologies a year; one YA Dark Fairy Tale anthology (Dark Heart), and one traditional Horror anthology (Night Shade). The aim of the project is to collect together short stories by emerging authors and connect them with a new readership.

Kate’s other passion, besides literature, is food and she runs a fun, informal recipe blog called ‘The Frugal Snob’, which started as a pet family project, a way to store recipes for her daughters but ‘it sort of grew!’.

Find Katie online at:

Website: http://www.katiemjohn.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KatieMJohn/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/KnightTrilogy

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4423626.Katie_M_John

My Review

I received an ARC from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Katie M. John’s I Defy You, Stars is a brilliant, well-written modernized version of Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet”. She kept the premise of two families at odds with teens in love and worked her own magic.

Romeo is now played by Rafe (Raffety George North), a confused eighteen-year-old. He comes from a wealthy family, but doesn’t embrace the values that privilege grants. Rafe has model good-looks but chooses to dress more like a ‘street kid’. He’s a poet who just wants to exist in life. He has no definite plans other than waiting to embark on a six-month adventure touring Europe before he attends university.

Mercutio shows up as Rafe’s best friend, Cutz. The version John created harkens back to Shakespeare’s rendition. Cutz fancies art over words. He’s a hothead fond of street fighting. Although Rafe is his friend, Cutz abhors the pretentiousness that comes with the Establishment. He prefers to be a free spirit. His secreted hobby? Writing essays! Brilliant!

And of course, we have Juliet aka Jules. Just like in Shakespeare’s play, this girl is naïve and young (a mere sixteen). She’s never thought about love or boys much. Then she meets Rafe and her world changes. Jules grows up fast, experiencing the ways of adults.

The two families—the Norths and the Bartons—aren’t at war with each other. Instead, they have mini-battles going on within their own walls. Mr. and Mrs. Barton are divorced and he’s shagging Mrs. North, who’s been divorced from her own spouse for quite some time. The turmoil comes when both teens find themselves enmeshed in serious trouble through no fault of their own.

With this backdrop love blossoms. The original Romeo and Juliet suffered from insta-love. Well so do Rafe and Juliet, but theirs is actually believable. They both needed strong people who were totally supportive of them without judgment. John portrayed Juliet as a misfit. She was smart and attractive, but for some reason she didn’t fit in at school. She didn’t fit in at home either. According to Jules, her mother preferred her brother and she was her father’s favorite. But Mr. Barton lived across town in a London flat. Rafe didn’t fit in either. He identified closer to Cutz, but his mother would have preferred if he’d emulated the life of the society boys. With everyone judging their behavior, it’s easy to see how they fell for each other. At one point, they weren’t even sure if they loved each other. Rafe said it and Jules didn’t want him to feel bad for saying it so, she hesitated. When he questioned her, she was certain she loved him. Not exactly insta-love. More like insta-friendship with some thrown in benefits.

Despite their obvious flaws, which I so appreciated, I loved these characters—Cutz, Rafe, and Jules. Each of them had strength that was much bigger than normal for their ages. There was depth in their frame of thinking. The way they handled tragedy was admirable, in the beginning. Unfortunately, fate had other plans for them.

I Defy You, Stars was the first read for me by Katie M. John. Reading IDYS was like experiencing a new friendship with someone from a different country. John’s use of British expressions made me appreciate the English language even more. I wanted to visit John’s world and experience it from her perspective. I’ve read other books by non-American authors, but I’d never had this feeling before. Yes, her worldbuilding was great. But it wasn’t just that. It was the characters. They made you want to reach out and get to know them better. Job well done!

I absolutely love John’s twist on Shakespeare’s classic. If high schools are still requiring students to read Romeo and Juliet, they need to read I Defy You, Stars too. After all, the title comes straight out of the play. You get a love story and some serious drama outside of their relationship. A story with big screen potential.

Be warned—John took a page from Shakespeare. Her tragedy is totally unexpected.

If you read IDYS, and I sure hope you do, and want to discuss it, drop me a line. I’m dying to talk about this book with someone. <smile>

 

Rating: 5-hands-up5-hands-up5-hands-up5-hands-up5-hands-up (5 Hands=Excellent, 4 Hands=Pretty Good, 3 Hands=Good)

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