When the Stars Go Blue is an absolutely stunning novel about Soledad, an 18 year-old dancer in Miami who becomes involved with both a drum and bugle corp, and the corp's lead horn player. It is, quite honestly, one of my favorite books of the year. Unfortunately, it's also very difficult to review without spoilers (which explains why the publisher's book description is so vague). Since there aren't any reviews yet, I'll do my best to share why this (along with another recent read, Mindi Scott's Freefall) is one of my favorite young adult titles of the year.
First of all, this is the story of Soledad and her first love, Jonathan. The relationship between the two is extremely intense, magnified by the drum and bugle corps' trip around the country performing at fairs and festivals. Their relationship grows extremely quickly, and it Ferrer's outstanding writing swept me up in their romance right along with Soledad. However, Soledad also has doubts about their relationship and where it will go when they each possibly head their separate ways at the end of the summer. Ferrer brilliantly explores Jonathan's jealously stemming from her friendship with a soccer player on the same fair circuit as the corp, Taz, and how it confuses and hurts Soledad, because she really does love and is devoted to Jonathan. There is nothing predictable and stereotyped about the way the characters react to the circumstances and obstacles in their paths, and I turned each page feeling the same doubts and confusion about the resolution as Soledad.
Secondly, the book feels like a love letter to the arts. I don't know what the author's personal experience is with drum and bugle corps, or her music/dance background, but her passion for the arts is clear. The story of Soledad's love for dance is just as compelling as her romance with Jonathan. I felt swept into a world I knew only a little about (I was in marching band, but nothing as sophisticated as drum and bugle corps) and loved each scene that brought me inside that world. This is made all the more interesting because the corps in When the Stars Go Blue is an all-male corps, so Soledad is traveling and performing with 150 young men. Even the chapter titles are inspired by music, I believe they're all song titles or lyrics--including the book title, "When the Stars Go Blue." When you read the book, be sure to notice these titles, as they're definitely part of the story (once I realized this a few chapters in, I went back and read them--such a wonderful element, like a musical roadmap to the story). If you love music, dance and the performing arts, this book will speak to that passion in a special way.
Thirdly, the character development is fabulous! Each character is multi-layered and has endearing and frustrating qualities--they feel like real people. Jonathan could easily have been one-dimensional, but he is a very compelling character. Taz, the Spanish soccer player, could have been the good-looking, cocky athlete, but he's complex and interesting. Even the minor characters, such as Raj, Soledad's dance partner, are funny and interesting. I so, so, so appreciate this. Sometimes in young adult novels, especially those targeted at young women, the secondary characters can be a bit shallow, and that's certainly not the case here.
Also, I love that the novel uses Carmen, the show the corps performs each night, as an inspiration, but it's in a subtle way. I was familiar with the story, but found myself reflecting on the similarities after I finished reading the book--not guessing as to the plot twists based on my familiarity with Carmen. I'm conflicted as to whether or not it would help or hinder readers who aren't familiar with the story to familiarize themselves with it. It's summarized briefly in the novel, and I feel like that's enough. Regardless, it's definitely not in the adaptation realm, but instead uses Carmen as a solid plot device.
Finally, I loved the setting of Soledad's hometown of Miami, her relationship with her Cuban grandmother and the Cuban culture detailed in the novel (including frequent uses of Spanish words and phrases). I felt immersed in a world that's very different from my own, and I loved having the chance to visit it through When the Stars Go Blue.
Note: I would highly recommend this book to adult readers. This is one of those young adult novels that many, many people of all ages can connect with. Soledad is a interesting and relatable character and her struggles and dreams feel very authentic. While this review is more effusive than I normally am, I really feel that it's much-deserved. Ferrer has written a book with interesting characters with complex emotions who I really cared about. When the Stars Go Blue has unique elements (such as the highly-driven dancer, the talented musicians, the skilled soccer player--all high achievers, the use of songs/music to subtly drive the story and the look into Cuban American culture) that make it stand out as a fresh and satisfying read.