Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Book Review: Little Star by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Little Star

Written by: John Ajvide Lindqvist

Published: 2012

Synopsis: A man finds a baby in the woods, left for dead. He brings the baby home, and he and his wife raise the girl in their basement. When a shocking and catastrophic incident occurs, the couple’s son Jerry whisks the girl away to Stockholm to start a new life. There, he enters her in a nationwide singing competition. Another young girl who’s never fit in sees the performance on TV, and a spark is struck that will ignite the most terrifying duo in modern fiction

Challenges: Translated Fiction for Book'd Out's Eclectic Reader Challenge.


I went into this book thinking it was about a man holding a young girl captive and grooming her for entry into an Idol style singing contest. It's actually about a lot more, but at it's core Little Star is a book about girls.

There are two female protagonists, Theres and Theresa, two girls who couldn't be more different yet find their lives intertwined. Theres was found as a baby abandoned in the woods, and brought back to be raised by Lennart and Laila in their basement. After the failure to raise their biological son Jerry, Lennart decides that this time they can do better, they will do better, and Theres will blossom where Jerry failed. Stuck in the basement however doesn't cause Theres to blossom, she's small and quiet and once she does start to speak she speaks in semi-incoherent sentences. What she does well though, is sing. When Theres sings, people stop and listen, they're moved, their concerns and fears are washed away...you get the idea, she's a primo singer. After a horrific event in the basement (actually one of the best moments in the entire book), Theres is moved to Stockholm with Jerry where things happen and she ends up on Sweden's version of Idol.

Enter Theresa. Theresa grew up in a normal family with a mother and a father and older brothers. However as we travel through her childhood years into adolescence we see that she too wasn't a "normal" kid. She was quiet, chubby, inwardly thinking and seemed almost incapable of making friends. She does make one friend though, an equally weird kid who moves in next door. Together they lay down and play dead, share their first kiss and play video games. As she gets older and angstier she turns to two hobbies, writing poetry and trolling on the internet. Both allow her to vent out her anger and frustration and, the trolling especially, provides her a sense of power when she typically feels small and subjugated. Through a twist of fate, her two hobbies collide and allow for a chance meeting with Theres, who at this point has appeared on the Idol show and connected with Theresa in a way no one else ever has.

Once together, Theres's influence effects Theresa and incites a change in Theresa that amplifies the joy and power she got from trolling but with much, much darker undertones. The two girls are joined by several other like-minded girls and the final third of the book is a roller coaster of events that are creepy and unsettling and absolutely what you'd expect from the man that's been dubbed "the Swedish Stephen King".

So that's your basic run down, and holy crap was it hard to write. This is a long book, around the 600 page mark, and there is sooooooo much set up that isn't really necessary but is so hammered into you that it's hard to separate from the story. I started this during the Dewey's Readathon and I spent most of the readathon slogging away through it, and trying to decide if I liked it (which is never a good sign). Bits of it I loved. The final third is amazing, and I would have loved if the story had revolved around this alienated female group mentality. Alas it doesn't, instead the first 400+ pages sacrifices plot development and progression for character development, which isn't a bad thing per say, as long as the character development actually means something. There were all these pieces of character development that didn't really connect with anything. Lennart is a bitter failed musician who beats his wife because she cheated on him 20 years ago. Laila eats her feelings. Theresa's mother is worried her daughter isn't "normal" enough. Jerry is...god knows what the plan for Jerry was. They're all elements of familial dysfuction and have causal relationships to the themes of the novel, but even though they're mentioned at length they never really feel like they pay off. Did we really need to spend 50 pages flashing back to Jerry's childhood or Lennart and Laila's early lives as singers? Was it really important to set up the friendship between Theresa and the boy next door?


I think this could have been a fantastic shorter novel that simply takes the first 400 pages as given and instead focuses on the relationship of the group of girls. In it's best moments it harkens to bleak horror (or horrific) films like The Suicide Club, Picnic at hanging Rock or even The Virgin Suicides and given the amazing quality of Let The Right One In and the successful elements of this book, I feel like Lindqvist had all the tools to really write a phenomenal book that delves into that rocky world of teenage angst and identity. But instead it's a mixed bag sampling ideas and themes from all over the place while never really landing on anything concrete.

I didn't dislike this book,but it's never a good sign where I stop reading every 10 minutes to ask myself if I'm enjoying it. Which sucks because after reading Let The Right One In I was sure I'd found a new favourite author. This is now my third Lindqvist book, and the second time in a row I've felt like he missed the mark. Handling the Undead was equally disappointing for me, again full of potential that was spent on the wrong things. This could all be my fault, perhaps I'm simply placing a level of expectation on him that's impossible to match, but I'd still recommend approaching this book with caution. Maybe sample a few chapters in a bookstore or on your Kindle, test the proverbial waters before you dive right in. 


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