The Promise of Stardust by Priscille Sibley
Source? the publisher via TLC Book Tours
FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of The Promise of Stardust from the publisher in exchange for a review. However, the review below and the opinions offered therein are all my own and offered without bias.
Why? the politics
I'm not a big romance reader, and even though I knew from the beginning that Matt and Elle's story would include some smoochy, smoochy stuff, the controversy and the politics of having a pregnant brain dead mother carrying a thriving fetus just reached out and grabbed me...by the neck.
Title? The symbolism of the title and where it comes from is incredibly profound and heartwarming
Cover? You have no idea...it's almost spooky...but in a good way.
I was reminded of? The Lovely Bones, "Ghost"
After I place The Promise of Stardust on my keeper shelves, I shall rest on my couch with cucumbers on my eyes until the swelling goes down. Since I began sobbing on pg. 3 and didn't stop until pg. 399, that may be a while.
"I need you to come in. It's your wife." Carl's voice sounded as tight as screeching tires. "She's had an accident." (2)
"There," Blythe said, pointing at the monitor. "A heartbeat." (21)
"Get the nursing supervisor. I want to talk to her. I want to talk to the CEO, and the hospital attorneys. I need the ethics committee to convene. I want to talk to the head of Medical Records. Now," I said. (36)
Because the water had cooled, I changed it and continued to bathe her. She didn't look pregnant; her belly was still flat. Maybe her breasts were a tad fuller. I marveled as I always did, at her tiny feet, and for the smallest moment I indulged myself in possibility, and my mind conjured an image of Elle holding a newborn baby. Then the moment ended.
I dried off my hands, pulled out my cell phone, and replayed Elle's last voice message. "Hey, it's me," she said. (64)
The headline of the Portland Press Herald read:
PREGNANT ASTRONAUT BRAIN-DEAD
Family Waging Court Battle (77)
Mom's expression hardened. She whispered, "Why didn't you tell me? I taught you about birth control. And if you didn't listen about that, then she still could have had an abortion. Jesus, she's fifteen. Your whole life just went down the tubes, Matt." (123)
I lit the floor lamp and stepped through the doors to the widow's walk, an apt name, for I had become a widower in all but fact. While waiting for the meteorite to pass, I spread out the quilt then sat down to look up at the night sky. The peak of the Perseids had come and gone, but Earth was still passing through the region of space. What would I wish for? To go back in time. I'd tell her not to climb up on that ladder. I'd wish for the baby to survive against the damning odds. Or I could die in my sleep so I could join Elle in nothingness. The vacuum nearly swallowed me.
I curled on my side and cried. I cried harder than I ever had. (135)
"I wouldn't step into the middle of this," he said, "if you'd let her die in peace. But you won't. And from what I've read in the paper, you didn't even know about that old advanced directive your mother produced. So actually, this is my responsibility. I talked to your mother's lawyer, and he's filing something or other so the judge will order the hospital to discontinue Elle's life support." (167)
The nurse was right. Two, maybe three times a minute, Elle took spontaneous breaths. It wasn't enough to sustain her.
I repeated Elle's neuro exam. Nothing else had changed. No miracle was coming.
Or maybe there was a miracle - waiting and doing somersaults. (275)
If there are no atheists in foxholes, there are none in critical care hospital rooms either. The funny thing was I'd never thought of myself as an atheist. I was a lapsed Catholic, perhaps, with a little agnosticism thrown in for good measure. I was a man of science and a man of little faith, a man who loved his wife and behaved within the confines of whatever was and whatever would be. (299)
And then it hit me again. Elle. She couldn't come to me. God, she was in the ICU, in another area of the hospital. But the part of Elle that counted, the part that was my friend, the part that me feel whole and human and male, that part of her no longer existed, and my aloneness nearly swallowed me. I needed her more than I ever had, and she was gone.
"I need her," I said aloud. Like a boy crying for something he could never have. And I wept, all my inhibitions pounded into submission. (341)
I missed her, and the only way I could cope was to write my own letters, Deer Peep. (385)
"Once upon a time there was a girl who loved the stars so much she took a ride on a rocket ship..." (399)
Matt and Elle have known each other since they were children, next-door neighbors, first loves. The long suffering death of her mother, her father's alcoholism and other consequences of being left to your own devices at 15 forced Elle to grow up long before she should have had to. But, Elle, a genius who skipped two grades in school and eventually became an astronaut, refused to be pulled down into the muck. Elle had two fears, one that she would die the same kind of death as her mother and two, she would never become a mother herself.
Elle's husband Matt is a neurosurgeon, a constant in her life since she was born. Through a lifetime of stops and starts, they finally end up together and are very happy.
Until the day Elle falls from a ladder while helping her brother Christopher.
Elle's brain injury is traumatic, and Matt knows as well as any other doctor that she will never recover from it. He knows the best thing to do is to let Elle go...until he finds out that she's pregnant.
From that moment on, things are about as complicated and emotional as they can possibly get.
What I Liked
Matt - as a neonatal intensive care nurse, Sibley has seen her share of traumatic events and heartbreak. As a woman reader, I've grown a little accustomed to the grieving wife and/or mother...but the perspective of the grieving husband and father is one that we don't see as much...especially not as much as we see in Matt. Because of her life's work, I can only assume Sibley drew from these experiences as she unfolded the character, Matt, and how he reacts to first his wife's "death" and then the fight for his unborn child.
Elle - brilliant young woman who takes what life gives her and makes something of it. She weathers the storm and comes out stronger on the other side bc of it. What might have left some women a blubbering mess and justly so, Elle was realistically able to persevere, even to the very end.
Matt and Elle - knowing their story...from their first meeting (he was 2 and she was a newborn) when he "baptized" her with the name "Peep," through her mother's illness, their time apart, finally their time together the children they lost together, you would almost have to be made of concrete not to feel the love between these two. Remember, I'm not a romantic...Matt and Elle's relationship is real, not perfect by a longshot, but authentic.
The portrayal of Hank's alcoholism - upon hearing of his daughter's catastrophic accident, Hank falls off the wagon after 20 years of sobriety. This made perfect sense to me...perfect. After he sobers back up again, there is another scene where he's sitting in a bar with one glass of Scotch in front of him, but he's drinking Pepsi. Psychologically he is choosing sobriety...it's his way of giving himself some sense of control, a reinforcement of strength...maybe not the best tactic for everyone, but again, it made sense to me.
Politics and the real life consequences. Can we really separate politics from the personal? Even though Matt's court battle was not about abortion, it became embroiled within that particular political environment. Turning off Elle's life support would obviously end the baby's life as well. Matt didn't want his and Elle's personal life to become a political fight, and he resisted that as much as he could...but it became impossible. It was clear to everyone that Elle did not want to be kept alive artificially, and she had even signed legal documents stating that very fact. However, Elle was also willing to do just about anything to have a child. How was Matt supposed to convince a judge of what Elle would have wanted without somehow using the law and even religion in his favor. What a dance this was for Matt. I ached for him throughout the entire story.
Religion and Faith - I have an incredibly strong faith, but I don't read fiction that smacks me over the head with it anymore than I read romance. As deeply as Matt is forced to examine all that he believes about life, his love for Elle and their unborn child, it would be impossible not to discuss faith to some degree...and Sibley seems to understand that perfectly.
The time switches - I've read a few books lately that don't seem to understand how well this strategy can work...Sibley begins Matt and Elle's story at the end and backs through the rest of their lives as the family works through what to do about Elle and the baby as well as somehow hold their family together. I never got lost; I never felt irritated; I never even experienced confusion. And, the story is not a simple one...it has teeth, and you have to keep up with the details...but it works.
The depth of the story - I couldn't stand it, and by the time I reached pg 25 I had to know how the story ended...so...I skipped ahead (Shhhh, don't tell anybody). Even though I knew how it ended as I continued to read, I still could. not. put. the. book. down. The overall plot is not the only story here; there are so many other layers to peel back. I read The Promise of Stardust in one day...all 399 pgs. of it...and not bc I had to, but bc I wanted to. Matt and Elle's story grabbed me and wouldn't let go.
The babies - Elle's astronomical way of dealing with their four lost babies and her final message to Matt blew. me. away.
What I Didn't Like
Adam - honestly Adam may have been the only character I truly didn't like; I never trusted him. Unlike everyone else in Elle's life with an opinion, I was never sure he truly cared about Elle He irritated me even more than Carol...and that's saying something.
It is stunning that The Promise of Stardust is Sibley's first novel. If this is any indication of the kind of stories she's got in her, boy, oh boy, are we blessed to have her around. If you are a mother, a woman who has ever dreamed of becoming a mother someday, I think you'll cry through this one just the way I did.
Other Stops on the Tour
Tuesday, February 5th: Kritters Ramblings
Wednesday, February 6th: Mrs. Q: Book Addict
Monday, February 11th: Peppermint PhD
Tuesday, February 12th: Tiffany’s Bookshelf
Wednesday, February 13th: Broken Teepee
Thursday, February 14th: Walking With Nora
Friday, February 15th: Dreaming in Books
Monday, February 18th: From L.A. to LA
Tuesday, February 19th: Book Addiction
Wednesday, February 20th: a novel toybox
Thursday, February 21st: BookNAround
Monday, February 25th: Tina’s Book Reviews