Stella by Helen Eve
|Stella by Helen Eve
|Reviewer: Robert James
|Summary: Gossip Girl and Great Expectations collide, with a dash of Animal Farm, in a dual narrative which doesn't always feel realistic but is seriously entertaining, with two incredibly strong leads.
|Date: January 2014
|Publisher: Macmillan's Children's Books
What do you get when you mix up Cecily Von Ziegesar's delightfully trashy Gossip Girl series with Dickens's classic Great Expectations, and throw in a splash of Animal Farm by George Orwell? A really readable YA contemporary story which has surprising depth and has been one I've been thinking about a lot since originally reading it towards the start of the year. I read Stella for the first time after getting it out of the library, and at the time I was extremely impressed by the voices of lead characters Stella and Caitlin, but had issues with it. On rereading, to prepare myself for upcoming prequel Siena, I think it's one of the relatively few books I've read recently which works even better second time around, although those issues haven't vanished completely.
The best part of the book is definitely the two narrators, who have excellent voices, their changing friendship, and the character development throughout the book. Stella starts the book as a consciously vain mean girl who is convinced she's better than anyone else around here. It's not even that she changes that much over the course of the book, but we see through her memories just what's shaped her into the character she's become, and it's a fascinating, if deeply disquieting, journey. Caitlin tells us in her first chapter that she should have beaten Stella to become Head Girl of Temperley High, but that the night instead ended with her picking jagged glass splinters out of her face. Nearly immediately, we're taken back to Caitlin's first day at Temperley as she enters the school an unknown, who's in awe of Stella and her clique the Stars. How did this quiet girl end up challenging the popular one? The rise (or fall, depending how you look on it, I think) of Caitlin is a stunning journey and I found it scarily believable.
My issues with the book are mainly that there are other parts which are less believable. The cliques, the Stars, and the way that the entire school are so obsessed with them doesn't quite ring true, and while it didn't feel as obviously over the top on the second reading as I'd thought it was originally, it's still jarring. (I should point out this feels like a deliberate choice for story effect, rather than poor writing, but I can see it not going down too well with people who weren't expecting it.) In addition, the ending is powerful but not completely convincing. My other issue with it is that so much of the story's strength is tied into the links to Great Expectations that I'm not 100% sure you'd get the full effect if you weren't aware of the story of the original. (I haven't actually read it, but I've at least seen several adaptations.)
Overall though, this is a strong debut, and has proven to be significantly more memorable than the vast majority of books I've read this year. I'm really excited about starting the prequel soon to find out exactly what happened to Stella's sister Siena!"
We also have a review of Eve's Siena.
I think fans of this will really enjoy the Pretty Little Liars series - fellow reviewer Zoe was a big fan of book 2, Flawless: Pretty Little Liars 2 by Sara Shepard. Another intriguing read in which I thought the author made a conscious decision to exaggerate the effect of cliques was High and Dry by Sarah Skilton.
You can read more book reviews or buy Stella by Helen Eve at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
You can read more book reviews or buy Stella by Helen Eve at Amazon.com.
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