Rated Reads

Hold Back the Stars

by Katie Khan

Rated: High

In the not-too-distant future, the U.S. and Middle East have been destroyed by nuclear weapons and the survivors are the beneficiaries of humanitarian aid from the people of Europe, which is now the main power of the world. After a couple of generations of striving and planning, Europe’s nations have been turned into “Voivodes,” numbered sections of one utopian entity that prizes individuality above all else. Individuals start rotations of three years at a time early on in their lives, getting the opportunity to live in different Voivodes, meet different people and learn new languages and some history of past cultures.

Carys grew up somewhat outside the system, not moving into rotation until adulthood, and Max is the child and grandchild of founders of Europia. They meet in their version of “online” when she looks for help with cooking. They are attracted to each other, which is fine, but would like to have a relationship, which is not. Settling down and thinking about having children is essentially against the rules until they’re at least mid-30s.

A few years after they meet, they are in space together, quite literally. They’ve been on a spaceship and, at the very beginning of the book, have gotten separated from their ship and are falling toward the asteroid field that surrounds the earth. Their situation is dire, and they only have 90 minutes of oxygen. As they struggle to come up with fixes for the various issues they face, they reflect on their lives on Earth and their relationship. Much of their discussion, and the regular “flashbacks” to their relationship, as it was, on Earth pertain to their regrets.

Readers get a broadening sense of the way of life and rules of the utopia that they live in, its benefits, aims — and downsides. Europia’s residents are encouraged to work for themselves, and self-sacrifice is frowned upon. But now that they are in space, Max and Carys have a clearer view of what’s important and what they would do for each other.

I enjoyed this story well enough but it didn’t leave a huge impression on me. The way the end (or rather, endings) came together seemed to me to not quite fit with the rest of the book; the style of the book itself was pretty realistic, and then the end was just a bit fantastical, and it didn’t work for me, at least on initial reading.

Rated: High, for a good 20 or more uses of strong language and more mild and moderate language. Sexual content: one scene of sex with a couple of paragraphs of some detail; references that most citizens of Europia are having lots of casual sex.


*I received an ARC of this from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

— Reviewed by Cathy Carmode Lim

Cathy Carmode Lim has been reviewing books for newspapers for more than 20 years, two of which she was a book page editor. She founded Rated Reads in January 2008.

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  • Hold Back the Stars
  • by Katie Khan
  • Rated: High
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Reviewer: