Title: The Girl with Stars in Her Eyes
Author: Xio Axelrod
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Publication date: May 4, 2021
Genre: Women’s Fiction, Romance
One Sentence Summary: Toni Bennette (yeah, she’s heard it all) wants nothing more than to work in music production with Richie, but doesn’t have the money to put in to become his business partner, until an offer to play with the Lillys, a hot up and coming band, comes her way.
The indie rock scene of Philadelphia. It kind of felt like it had my name on it even though I’m not a rock fan. Still, I adore music, and Philadelphia has a special place in my heart. So, of course I had to read this one! Add in a feminist guitarist who did not have an easy life but still has ambition and a female indie rock band and a childhood crush and it just feels like the perfect combination for a sexy, sassy, musical read. Even if I wasn’t going to understand most, if any, of the music references.
A Surprisingly Intense Story
As teens, Antonia and Sebastian were inseparable, bound by music and bad fathers, after Antonia’s mother shipped her off to the middle of nowhere in Pennsylvania to pursue her dreams of stardom. Years later, Sebastian abruptly took off in the middle of the night, leaving Antonia on her own.
Fast forward about eight years and Toni is a musician in Philadelphia. She’s in residence at the Electric Unicorn and does sessions at Phactory Sound, where she befriends the owner’s son, Richie. She dreams of becoming his partner, and he’s pushing for it as well, as long as she can come up with thirty-five grand.
Sebastian, meanwhile, has spent the years piecing together a rising female rock band called the Lillys. But all is not well as socialite turned guitarist Candi has a falling out with the rest of the group, opening up a space for a temporary guitarist, a space Toni fits the bill for.
The past is ready to smack both Toni and Sebastian in the face, bringing up uncomfortable and angry feelings. But it also brings questions to Toni of what she really wants, especially as she witnesses firsthand everything she never wanted.
I really enjoyed The Girl with Stars in Her Eyes. It felt fierce and confident, raw and real. It was a surprisingly intense story that completely riveted me. The only thing that I wasn’t a huge fan of was the romance. It was always at the edges, always simmering, but I really preferred the story of Toni and the Lillys. I loved reading the story of an outsider slowly being welcomed into the group.
The Girl with Stars in Her Eyes is described as a feminist novel. Indeed, there are strong women, women who know what they want, women willing to do anything and everything to get what they want, and broken women who continue to fight. It does mean the men were, mostly, not great characters, though there were some redeeming ones. I loved how strong the women’s characterizations were. I did get a couple of the minor ones mixed up, but, after awhile, I was able to keep all of them straight and could see how interesting and different each of them were. In their own ways, each of them were a force to be reckoned with, so I don’t envy the role Sebastian played in all their lives.
I really enjoyed the story of Toni becoming accepted into the Lillys. She’s insanely talented, but being on stage in the limelight is not her thing. I liked that her choice to work with them was for practical reasons, and really enjoyed reading about the unique family the women created. Most of it really was full of music and how it drew the women together, creating a firm common ground and foundation for them, especially because of the manner Toni entered their group.
But there’s also a fairly intense romance worked into this already surprisingly intense book. It’s there, sizzling away at the fringes, from the very beginning and only seemed to grow from there. But there’s also a really lovely friendship, and everything that goes with repairing trust. Most of the time, I felt this was nicely woven into the story, but, other times, it seemed to take over and, while I enjoyed and appreciated it, I did lose interest a bit. It felt predictable and like it wanted to take over more than it actually did.
Overall, I did enjoy this book immensely. It has some really strong women, especially women who are trying to break into a world dominated by men who are in charge. It’s also a gorgeous story of four women coming together to form a family based on a shared love of the same music.
Plenty of Strong Women
There are a lot of characters in The Girl with Stars in Her Eyes, but I mostly found it easy to keep them separate. They had unique personalities and played different roles. Actually, that helped a lot, each of them playing a different and unique role within the story. The one thing that I struggled with was that some of them were expats, but I had trouble with both remembering and hearing their accents in my head. It was always something of a surprise to be reminded they had come from other countries.
I really liked Toni and Sebastian, though I wish their relationship hadn’t been quite so intense. She’s strong and fierce, but also fragile and maybe a little too forgiving. She clearly has a soft spot for Sebastian, but is stubborn and intent on being self-sufficient. Sebastian is kind of a broken soul and never shies away from it. But he tries really hard to be better, and it’s all his trying that won me over. Otherwise he kind of felt broken beyond repair until his childhood friend comes back into his life.
The Lillys were awesome. A group of four women who were brought together by Sebastian, they had a lot in common, but that didn’t stop them from having creative differences. In many ways, they felt exactly as I always imagined a real band would. They were all fun to get to know and I loved how well they worked and blended together. Even through their differences, their bonds were strong.
Above all, I loved that The Girl with Stars in Her Eyes was about people not changing their fundamental cores. By that I mean that none of the characters changed, exactly, but matured instead. Who they were remained who they are, but they’re capable of seeing things with more mature eyes. I loved seeing how Toni and Sebastian didn’t change, but just grew up and matured while holding tightly to their pasts and who they had been. Who they had been as kids remained who they were as adults.
East Coast Music Spaces
The Girl with Stars in Her Eyes is set mostly in Philadelphia and New York City. But I think most of it was actually set in various studios and other rehearsing spaces. I didn’t really get a true sense of place, except through the food of Philadelphia. But it was still nice to kind of feel like I was back in Philadelphia.
I’ve never been in a recording studio or a place like the Electric Unicorn, but I loved the attention to detail. The author was raised in the music industry and records, writes, and performs, so I trust she knows what she’s writing about! There were so many interesting tidbits I’d never known about and it was fun to get to learn it all. All the details really made me feel like I was in a recording studio. The stage event felt a little more artistic to me, so it was a little difficult to envision some of it and to connect with it, but it was still a rather incredible scene in many ways.
A Fantastic, Intense Read
The Girl with Stars in Her Eyes is a fantastic novel. Sure, there were some things I wasn’t a huge fan of, especially the romance, but I did love the intensity and all the strong women with strong personalities. The attention to detail was incredible and really made the story into something amazing. The story felt like it had been stripped raw and I loved that there was no sugar coating. The characters were intense, the story was intense. It reeled me in and I couldn’t stop reading.
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Thank you to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Casablanca for a review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.