16-year-old Sheetal seems like any other normal Indian-American teenager. She’s close to her large family, has a best friend and a boyfriend, and she’s looking forward to going to college. What most people don’t know, though, is that her father, a famous astrophysicist, married a star.
Sheetal’s mother left years ago to ascend to her celestial court, and she told Sheetal never to let anybody suspect that she’s half star. To hide this fact, Sheetal dyes her silver hair black, but lately the hair dye has not been taking. Also, recently, as Sheetal approaches her 17th birthday, she has started to hear her mother’s starsong and doesn’t know what that means.
When Sheetal begins to realize she has some special powers and then accidentally causes her father to have a heart attack, she realizes she must visit her mother’s court to find a cure for him. When she arrives in the celestial court, she discovers that she has been summoned to take part in a competition and that she is her mother’s family’s only hope for retaining their political power. If she wins the contest, the family will keep their power and, in return, she will be given the cure her father needs.
The best thing about Shveta Thakrar’s Star Daughter (2020) is the Indian-American setting. I loved hearing about their culture, their food and music, their habits, their family interactions, and Hindu mythology. I liked the characters, too, including Sheetal, her father, her nosy aunt, her talented boyfriend (though I didn’t really feel the connection between him and Sheetal), and, especially, her best friend Minal (this connection I did feel). The first part of the novel that focuses on the setting and characters was believable and entertaining.
Later however, when Sheetal ascends to the heavens, the plot becomes much less credible and often reliant on lucky coincidences. Because the book is set in our own world, supernatural events, such ascending to the stars, lacked sufficient explanation and characters’ reactions to these events felt inauthentic. I didn’t like any of Sheetal’s relatives and Sheetal herself becomes less likable as she spends a lot of time feeling sorry for herself.
That pacing in this part was inconsistent, with tiresome sections of conversations /arguments interspersed with action scenes that probably should have been longer. A major problem was that, though I was interested in the fates of Sheetal and her father, I could not muster any interest in the political battle being waged in the heavens. That’s partly because the cause of the conflict is an event that happened long ago which we only hear about rather than experience.
Still, though, I think Star Daughter is a fairly strong debut novel and I’m looking forward to more by Shveta Thakrar. The audio edition I listened to was published by HarperAudio and beautifully narrated by Soneela Nankani. It’s 13 hours long. I love the cover art. Star Daughter is a finalist for the Andre Norton (Nebula) Award.