To Touch the Stars by Jeremy Pack
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is a hard book to rate and review. There were things I loved about it, things I hated, and other things that turned out to disappoint me based on my own expectations of what I wanted this book to be. This is another of those books that seemed like it would be a 5 star read based on my first sitting with it, but which fell apart slowly as I progressed through the book.
I liked the author’s writing style. It was good at conveying emotion, and there were a lot of feelings packed into this book. That made it a novel I struggled to put down, even when I felt events were a little too contrived or fell back on lazy tropes to drop a roadblock in the way of the main characters getting together. The side characters had a lot of page time, for good and ill. Some of them I liked, others seemed a little too villainous or a little too heroic to be truly believable.
The first third of the novel, covering Nick’s dream of reaching space and Tait’s career as a rising star of TV news, was easily the best. For the most part, this portion of the book seemed the most grounded in reality. I could have read this as a standalone piece and probably would have loved it. The longing and the sadness of wanting an impossible dream and having to make sacrifices and hard choices to reach that goal stood out to me. The yearning was palpable and I couldn’t stop reading, hoping that Nick and Tait would find a way to have their cake and eat it too. Sadly, a well-worn trope steps into play and keeps them from getting together in a way that’s believable for the time, but very unsatisfying and unoriginal.
The second part started out interestingly, with Tait living his dream of being a war reporter. We meet Alex, who is my favorite side character, but sadly this is where the book starts to lose its focus. Instead of accepting that life is sometimes cruel (especially in war) and that sometimes you have to salvage what you can, Tait ends up planning and acting out a rescue mission that he’s not trained or qualified for (and seems out of character for someone who is described as timid). Just by sheer coincidence, Nick is there to save him when things turn out badly. This is where this book jumped the shark a bit for me. I might have been sold on this plot turn if it had been the finale, but sadly another tired old contrivance comes into play, ensuring Nick once again turns his back on everything he wants because It’s The Right Thing To Do. Cue sigh from me.
Then we get into the third part, which was my least favorite of the lot. We find that our main characters are still denying themselves, while lying to others in the process. Worse still, we’re informed that they’ve accomplished their dreams with a big shrug of the shoulders. We’re told about Nick’s journey to space after the fact, with none of the tension or wonder that could have occurred from the risks and rewards of a space voyage. Then we have some completely unnecessary baby and illness drama from a side character, which happens to just draw everything together and wrap it up with a big Happy Ever After bow on the top, leaving me with an ending that was too sweet in all the wrong ways.
Nick and Tait got what they wanted, but I was left wondering why. It seemed like they only got together once there was no longer anything else to lose, almost in resignation. I wanted Tait and Nick to be partners in dream making, each propelling the other to greater heights. Instead, by the end of the book, they don’t have any ambition any more, let alone anything in common. Instead, the message of the book is that family is greater than any successes or achievements. I’m sure that resonates with a lot of people, but for me, it just fell flat. I wasn’t sure that they were really right for one another by the end, and was left questioning if they would even be a good couple. A love that I had firmly believed in at the start of the book seemed to have fizzled out by the time it was realized, leaving an ending that wasn’t as satisfying as it should have been.