Cover of Starworld by Paula Garner and Audrey Coulthurst. Two houses at night under a stary sky

About the Book

Title: Starworld
Published: 2019

Cover Story: Like the Title Says
Drinking Buddy: Hells to the Yes
Testosterone Estrogen Level: Frustrated
Talky Talk: Another World
Bonus Factors: OCD, Assisted Living
Bromance Status: Right in the Feels

Cover Story: Like the Title Says

It’s certainly a world. And it’s all starry. It wouldn’t have drawn my attention.I would have preferred a drawing of Starworld itself.

The Deal:

Sam Jones is a girl who just wants to be left alone. She enjoys painting and hanging out with her just-friends buddy, Will. The rest of the school considers her an oddball and an outcast, and she doesn’t care. She has problems of her own, you see. Her father moved back to England after he divorced Sam’s mother and she hasn’t seen him in years. And her mother is very…particular about things. The kitchen must be scrubbed and bleached after each use. The stove burners must be turned off…not just once, but four times. Everything must be done in multiples of four. All the items in Sam’s lunch must be the same color. And things Sam wants to do, like driving or visiting her father…doesn’t she have any idea how dangerous that can be?

Zoe Miller, on the other hand, is one of the most popular girls in school. Gorgeous, an actress, and dating Hunter, one of the school’s star athletes. How great is her life?

Except it’s not. Her mother is recovering from breast cancer, which is only in ‘partial remission.’ Her younger brother, Jonah, has severe developmental disabilities. He relies on his family for most of his needs. But now that he’s fifteen, he doesn’t know his own strength, and has become hard to handle, especially around Zoe’s fragile mother. The family makes the difficult decision to move him into an assisted living facility.

Plus, and not everyone knows this, Zoe is adopted. Her birth mother abandoned her. Not via social services, she just dumped baby Zoe off at a fire station with no explanation. There must have been something wrong with her, right? That’s why her mother hated her, right? And no matter how much her parents shower her with love, Zoe knows that she’s not really their child.

When Zoe contacts Sam over something mundane, the two begin a tentative text message conversation. This blooms into the story of ‘Starworld,’ a magical kingdom with treasures, quests, and a dragon named Humphrey who gets his power from Taco Bell hot sauce. Soon, the girls are sharing their deepest fears and secrets with each other. But can a friendship between two such different people survive in real life?

Drinking Buddy: Hells to the Yes

Two pints of beer cheersing

I’m freaking out over the well-being of fictional characters again. Sam has had it up to her neck with her mother, especially when she realizes that Mom has been preventing her from visiting her father. She can’t comprehend that anyone as neat as Zoe would ever want to be friends with her and keeps waiting for the other shoe to drop. Will, her wonderfully geeky buddy, finally has a girlfriend and now has less time for her (and honestly, Sam needs to cut the new girl some slack. Sam may have been first, but she’s not the girlfriend).

Zoe is tremendously popular, but very few people know about her family’s problems. She’s not always up to go out drinking and partying with her friends, and her great boyfriend, Hunter, feels increasingly ignored. And then there’s the whole ‘adopted’ thing. She knows her parents love her, but she wishes she knew what was so horrible about her that her birth mother just threw her away.

The time was ripe for these two girls to meet and see how great they both are, through each other’s eyes.

Testosterone Estrogen Level: Frustrated

Once Sam and Zoe start letting their guard down, they realize they have the basis for a friendship that could last a lifetime. There’s no hurt they can’t share, no secret they can’t talk about. Sam tells Zoe about her mother’s OCD and her problems with her father. Zoe lets Sam know how much it hurt to send her brother away. They are completely open with each other.

Except about one thing. You see, Sam has never really been interested in boys. But Zoe…Sam just wants to hold her and smell her hair and touch her face and…

She’s already confided to Will that she might be a lesbian. And Zoe is rapidly turning into the princess of Sam’s Starworld dreams. But how do you tell a friend something like that? Do you risk the bond for the chance of something even greater?

Talky Talk: Another World

The authors did a great job of capturing teenage self-loathing in two distinct voices. You know that if these two are destined to be great friends, with Sam introducing Zoe to nerd culture, and Zoe encouraging Sam to take more risks. At the same time, these girls have been hurt before, and it’s not easy to trust people. Sam goes into hiding more than once out of fear Zoe doesn’t really like her. But that’s where Starworld comes into play. While texting each other, the girls create a magical, fantastical (if not somewhat repetitive) world where they can be themselves…and maybe use as an analogy for their real life problems.

Bonus Factor: OCD

Silhouette of a woman sitting sadly on the floor in front of a balcony

Sam’s mother has obsessive-compulsive disorder, and it’s getting worse. Maybe that’s why her father left. She once yanked Sam out of summer camp and drove her to the emergency room, because she got a boo boo on her hand. Every activity Sam suggests ends with a laundry list of catastrophe scenarios. Sam is desperate to get out of the house, but is terrified if she leaves, her mother will end up sitting in the garage, opening and closing the door, again and again and again. How can she visit her father, let alone go off to college?

Bonus Factor: Assisted Living

Close up of a hand on a wheelchair wheel.

Zoe’s family absolutely loves her brother, Jonah. But Jonah has very low mental capacity, and he’s growing into a powerful adult with poor impulse control. They simply cannot care for him (he’s already accidentally broken his mother’s finger). They make the difficult decision to put him in an assisted living facility. While they know it’s for the best, they still feel like they’re kicking him out of the family. Zoe is terrified. He won’t understand what’s happening. Who will remember to turn on his favorite bird DVDs? Who will sing to him? Who will love him?

Bromance Status: Right in the Feels

I was doing okay until that last bit where Sam confronts her mother. Damn. That was rough.

Literary Matchmaking


For another book about a female-created fantasy world, look no further than Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl.

Turtles All the Way Down

John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down also deals with OCD.

How We Roll

A girl is frustrated by her developmentally disabled brother in How We Roll, by Natasha Friend.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from one of the authors, but no money or fire sauce.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.