When the Stars Go Blue by Caridad Ferrer 2010 (ARC)
Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Griffin Press
When the Stars Go Blue is a modern retelling of Carmen. Listen to the song that inspired the title here (utterly haunting/enchanting). Soledad is dance and dance is Soledad, it is her everything. It's the summer after graduation and she had planned on teaching at her ballet teacher's dance studio and then getting an apartment in NYC in order to audition for dance companies. However her plans change when her classmate Jonathan Crandall asks her to consider auditioning for the part of Carmen. The audition is for the drum and bugle corps he is a part of. The opportunity is a once in a lifetime and introduces Soledad to the competitive world of the drum and bugle corps, the thrill of dancing in front of a huge, live audience, and the wonder of falling in love for the first time. While she travels across the U.S. with the corps, she meets Taz, a Spanish soccer player with a silver streak in his hair. Taz is clearly into Soledad, but it doesn't matter, because she's in love with Jonathan. And you can't be in love with two people at once, right? But everything changes after one dramatic incident that could ruin more than one future.
"People always asked why I danced. Why I'd devoted so much of my life to something that seemed to offer so little in return. But good as I was with words, in this they kind of deserted me. Every once in a while, I wished I could talk about it. How dancing created this huge, chaotic jumble of emotions and adrenaline rushing through my bloodstream-the freedom and power that came from the ability to command my body so completely." If you have ever felt passionately about something, no doubt, you can relate to what Soledad is saying. This quote is on the 2nd page and it was then that I knew Soledad and I would get along just fine. Soledad is one of the most driven protagonists in YA that I've ever come across. In this novel, the similarities between the original Carmen (I've never seen the opera so I'm basing this off summaries I've found and the musical Carmen Jones, which I adore) and this retelling are harder to spot. One of them is in how ambitious Carmen was and how ambitious Soledad is. Plus they both live in the moment, a quality that Jonathan envies of Soledad. Furthermore Jonathan and Soledad have tempers, much like Don Jose and Carmen. There is a love triangle but there is no clear winner, not until the grand finale. Taz is probably the only guy with long hair I will ever see as utterly sexy (that silver streak!), and it doesn't hurt that he's a soccer player ;) There are no one-dimensional characters. Each character is very carefully fleshed out, the flaws becoming more evident while the plot thickens. There is an intense air throughout the whole novel since Carmen is a tragedy and you know that eventually there will be a dramatic conclusion.
The writing is indescribable. It is expressive and elegant and it has obvious that the author knows both the story of Carmen and the world of which she speaks (drum and bugle corps, dance). The passion for the subject matter leaps off the page, after all only a dancer could really name the indescribable feeling that dancing provides. The romance is steamy, not because it's particularly explicit but because there is so much longing between Soledad, Jonathan and Taz. "Felt as if we had a whole conversation in the glance we exchanged in the silence following his words. But it was a teasing sort of exchange, the words in a language I wasn't quite comprehending. That I didn't really want to understand yet. But in a way, I did. At least, I wanted to try." (pg. 208). The author clearly illustrates the confusion Soledad feels over the behavior of both Taz and Jonathan, the confusion of being in love and wanting someone so badly, you don't know what to do with yourself.
When the Stars Go Blue is a dazzling read set in a world that will be new to many readers (including myself). I've never been to a college football game or seen a drum and bugle corps perform, but now I really want to see one live! I can't say that it looks easy being in the color guard, playing an instrument, etc. but I now know from this book that it's not, it takes a ton of blood, sweat and tears (well I already knew that about playing an instrument and dancing but still). The fervor that Soledad feels for dance, that Taz feels for soccer and that Jonathan feels for playing the horn is a palpable feeling that anyone who has dedicated themselves to a craft of some sort can relate to. The romance will have any romantic swooning and the climax will have you gasp out loud (especially when witnessing the painful rebound Soledad must make, it's a struggle to say the least). Caridad Ferrer is definitely one of my favorite authors and I will read whatever she writes next, no questions (after all I swore I would never develop a crush on a literary character with long hair or for that matter, any guy with long hair. Until Taz came along). At one point Jonathan tells Soledad to "Own it.", own the role of Carmen. Caridad Ferrer owns this retelling of Carmen and just like her main character, she triumphantly makes it her own.
Read our interview with the author