Overall Grade: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 1/2
WARNING: This will be an essay, not a short review. If you want to know a general impression, then know this: Staci Hart is a genius, and Star Bright’s story is engaging, entertaining, and exacting. There is something special with this story that sets it apart from your average romance. It isn’t average for Staci Hart’s brand of romance, though. What you will find in Star Bright is more of the same insightful, intelligent, beautifully written romance that you’ve received from her before. Just on another level. So buckle up or move on…it’s entirely up to you.
In my second year of my master’s in literature, I took a seminar class entitled Hemingway and Fitzgerald. The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite books of all time, and I absolutely enrolled in that class quickly. With this class along with the rest of my master’s, I spent quite a bit of focus on the modernists (in fact, I wrote most of my master’s thesis on Hemingway): authors, writing during a time post-WW1, whose general character reflected a generation disillusioned by the consequences of war. If you read almost anyone during this period, there is a loss of hope. These aren’t books with happy endings because the war had killed almost an entire generation of men. These were artists who wanted their literature to reflect the lack of hope for this generation, and it does. F. Scott Fitzgerald absolutely illustrates this time and time again in his stories. It isn’t just The Great Gatsby that leaves you feeling a little empty; the other books do the same. You’re probably wondering why I’m sharing this with you. Well, if you read Star Bright, you are reading a book that reads as though it is heavily influenced by Fitzgerald. Staci Hart’s hero feels very much like Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby: an outsider with insider leanings. They feel as though they never quite fit, but they are given entree into this world of decadence, debauchery, and hedonism. Where Nick and Levi diverge is in Levi taking on a true heroic characterization. In Gatsby, Nick feels like an observer, engaging with the other main characters, but it isn’t really his story. He is simply telling it. In Hart’s Star Bright, there is a sameness here. Like Nick, Levi is an observer, and he too is telling the story of the Bright Young Things; however, his presence is also necessary to the shape of the story. He is the impetus for change Hart’s heroine, Stella’s thinking. Herein lies the beginning of Hart’s genius in her story, Star Bright. Her ability to capture the essence of Gatsby, offer it the spirit of the 2020s, and lay it out in a story that is still vastly different from Fitzgerald’s is her brilliance.
You might say, well, Amy, Professor A, isn’t that a huge promise? No. Staci Hart hit my radar a little over a year ago. I read my first ARC of hers, and quite frankly, I gave it a 4-star review. At the time, I didn’t understand it. However, as the months passed, my brain pondered over that book. Additionally, I read the first book of her newer series, Coming Up Roses, and I realized immediately that I had missed something with my review. I met her at Book Bonanza, and I asked her my big question, the one that had been pressing in my brain since finishing Coming Up Roses, and it was at that moment when I placed her on a pedestal. I couldn’t help it because I realized immediately that her brilliance lies in her intentionality. She oftentimes writes books inspired by the classics. And she does this by co-opting a particular voice for a particular story. Just to clue you in, this is very hard to do. Most authors have a general writing voice that you find in all of their stories. The more you read their writing, the more easily it is to find that voice. Not Staci Hart. She changes the voice of the book to match its story. For Star Bright, her story and voice absolutely feel like Fitzgerald. There are so many moments when the decadence of his storytelling becomes hers. But here is where her genius also lies: Hart captures the feel of Fitzgerald without the modernist leanings. Life is difficult for the Bright Young Things. Even though we know they are lavishly rich, each of them struggles with something. Instead of mimicking Fitzgerald’s hopelessness in her book, Hart gives them hope. Their hope is derived from their manufactured sense of family, and it buoys them through their individual challenges. It’s a testament to Hart’s writing ability that she can evoke Fitzgerald in her book, but the reason you should read her books is she makes the storytelling her own. Even though Fitzgerald belonged to a larger group of “friends,” he and his friends still felt isolated. And that isolation runs rampant through their books. That isn’t a characteristic of Star Bright. In fact, you find the true treasure of Star Bright: its message of family and community. That is where Hart has found hope for her readers, and Fitzgerald could not.
And once again, Staci Hart’s style is decadent. Her descriptions are decadent; her characterizations are decadent, and her story feels decadent. There are big cinematic moments in this book that run like a reel through your mind. There are words that Levi and Stella and the other Bright Young Things speak that bring goosebumps to your limbs. Each turn of the page ingratiates itself into your being, and you don’t want to put this story down because you care about characters whom you probably wouldn’t normally. Hart uses the metaphor of light and dark to conjure up Levi’s conflict while also holding him in juxtaposition to the light of this story, Stella. If you have EVER wanted to read a story written with intention and decided skill, this IS the book. Even more, there is more of this series to come with a plentitude of characters for any situation. For me, Zeke is a standout, and I am hoping that Staci Hart brings him a story.
I know this review is long (I promised an essay), and it might be reading more into this book than necessary, but these words have been sitting in my mind for days and they needed some place on a page. I know this isn’t the typical review, but this book is doing something more than offering you a beautifully-wrought romance. What you find nestled between the pages of Star Bright is the hope of community. Hidden within its fun, you’ll find people who truly love, adore, and care for each other. And in our current world, I think we could all use that hope. Staci Hart could have easily used Star Bright to reflect on the problems of our world, leaving us disenfranchised just as the modernists did. Instead, she chose the light, letting the shadows stay in the dark.
In love and romance,