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Staff Picks: “For Darkness Shows the Stars” by Diana Peterfreund

To be fair, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund seems to have been written especially for me. I didn’t read much young adult literature when I actually was a young adult, but I read all of Jane Austen during high school. Now that I read (and love) YA, my taste tends to favor science fiction and fantasy, so this hit two of my sweet spots as a reader. A post-apocalyptic and dystopian retelling of Austen’s Persuasion? Sign me up.

Though the cover might lead you to believe the story takes place in space, it’s set in a future here on Earth years after genetic manipulation nearly wiped out humanity. Only the Luddites, who escaped to live in caves for generations, have survived unscathed. The rest of the people are called the Reduced, with limited intellectual capabilities that have left them mute and unable to care for themselves. When it is finally safe to come to the surface, The Luddites set out to restore humanity. They believe it is their duty to God to care for the Reduced, but the way they do this is by enslaving them and outlawing all forms of technology in order to prevent the same kind catastrophe that nearly killed off their ancestors. The Reduced work the farms of the Luddites, and after a few generations, begin to have children called Posts because they are not afflicted with the genetic problems of their parents and can lead normal, productive lives, yet they are still bound to their Luddite masters.

Elliot is a Luddite who runs her father’s estate because he is frivolous and lazy. Years ago, she had the opportunity to run away with her friend Kai, a Post who was a talented mechanical apprentice who dreamed of a life where the rigid social structure didn’t interfere with their friendship. Elliot, knowing the estate would fail if she left, stayed behind and her responsibility was to the people she whose care was entrusted to her family. Now, years later, Kai has returned, but as a wealthy, accomplished Post who is renting out her family’s shipyard to build a fleet to explore beyond the island. And so the awkward tension begins…will Elliot and Kai get back together?

The story follows the plot of Jane Austen’s Persuasion rather closely, so even though I knew the basic outline of what would happen, I still felt compelled to keep reading and ended up finishing the book in one day. The characters drew me in, not the plot. Elliot is everything Ann is in Persuasion: endearing, dedicated, true. She doesn’t deny her emotions, she just realizes there is more to the world than her own feelings. As the main character, she was certainly the most developed, and I genuinely liked her. Kai was brooding and taciturn in the tradition of Austen’s leading men. Though the supporting cast felt underdeveloped, they served their purpose of furthering the story.

As far as science fiction goes, this is definitely what I’d call “sci-fi lite”. There’s not a lot of development of the “how” of the world—it’s clear that genetic manipulation is what contributed to the demise of a good portion of the population, but there’s no hard science. It’s not the details that the story relies on, however; the idea suffices. The slow way the past is revealed allowed it to serve as a background to the romance.

And the romance is what you read it for. Though the story is set in the future, the old-fashioned ideas of class and courtship play out in an excruciatingly delightful way.

In young adult literature, the romance is often a tale of boy meets girl. There is instant attraction, then they battle their family/evil overlords/zombies/etc. It was refreshing to read a story that starts years after the protagonists initially fell in love. Rather than sacrificing the tension, this configuration magnified it exponentially. Though we don’t get so much as an on-page kiss between Malakai and Elliot, the tension and angst surely don’t suffer.

I recommend this book for those who like their YA romance with a side of dystopia and a sprinkling of sci-fi.

- Molly, YA Staff

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