Review: Hold Back the Stars by Katie Khan

Sunday, May 7, 2017
Title: Hold Back the Stars
Author: Katie Khan
Genre: science fiction, contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 305
Published: expected May 2017
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 4.75/5

A startling and evocative novel, harkening to both One Day and Gravity, a man and a woman revisit memories of their love affair on a utopian Earth while they are trapped in the vast void of space with only ninety minutes of oxygen left.

After the catastrophic destruction of the Middle East and the United States, Europe has become a utopia and, every three years, the European population must rotate into different multicultural communities, living as individuals responsible for their own actions. While living in this paradise, Max meets Carys and immediately feels a spark of attraction. He quickly realizes, however, that Carys is someone he might want to stay with long-term, which is impossible in this new world.

As their relationship plays out, the connections between their time on Earth and their present dilemma in space become clear. When their air ticks dangerously low, one is offered the chance of salvation—but who will take it? An original and daring exploration of the impact of first love and how the choices we make can change the fate of everyone around us, this is an unforgettable read.

Some stories stick with us because they feature big, memorable events and larger-than-life characters that are hard to forget. Some stories resonate because, though smaller in scope, they can capture the emotions and struggles we all endure over the course of our lives, even in extraordinary circumstances. Somehow Katie Khan's Hold Back the Stars manages to be both kinds of story at once, and in just over 300 pages. There are space disasters and relationship problems held in equal gravity; a world-threatening meter belt around Earth and first love are the two main complications for main characters Carys and Max.

Hold Back the Stars is a intricately-written and plotted story. On the whole, I loved this debut. It was fresh, clever, evocative, and an original way to frame a love story. A few very small nitpicks kept this from a full five-star rating (I read 300 pages of this book and still don't really get how the Voivodeship works? I get it's really just a framework for Carys and Max to fight against but it makes no sense to me? A utopia where everyone moves every three years? Who moves the belongings all the time? No one can be in a couple until they're in their late 30s? And no one challenged that before the third generation of the utopia? Anyway..... ) but this is a clever, engaging, and emotion-filled novel. It's thoughtful and creative in how it approaches the love story between Max and Carys; an unpredictable and harrowing read as the story alternates between Carys and Max's past on Earth and present in space.

The framework of Hold Back the Star's narrative is one told in alternating timelines. Jaunting between severe dilemmas in space for the present (the more science fiction end of the story) and the evolution of their relationship in Europia that lead up to their space mission, this book feels half like science fiction and half contemporary. It shouldn't work as well as it does with those different two genres, but Katie Khan keeps both halves of the story in balance as she unwinds the plot that connects the two realities. Max and Carys do a lot to dispel issues; both alone and together these are two well-developed and interesting people. They aren't perfect and neither is their love story, but watching them grow and evolve is worth an investment of time and emotion.

Bittersweet, clever, and introspective, Hold Back the Stars was a late but necessary addition to all my best-of lists for 2016. The unique way the story was written fits the plot and made for an excellent and entertaining read that satisfies both science fiction and romance cravings.

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