Donuts, Violins, and the Queer Experience: “Light from Uncommon Stars” Book Review

Light from Uncommon Stars

The story of a young trans runaway meeting a woman who has one more soul to gather before she can get out of her deal with a demon, also featuring aliens, Light from Uncommon Stars is a bizarre and brutally honest book about finding the real you, finding your place in the universe, and the healing power of music.

Light from Uncommon Stars, by Ryka Aoki, is described as “Good Omens meets The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet” and wow, is that an accurate comparison. Featuring a bevy of characters and narrative perspectives, Aoki weaves the tale of Katrina, a trans teenager fleeing an abusive home life, Shizuka, an older-than-she-looks violin teacher out to save her soul, Lan, an alien refugee from the Galactic Empire who owns a donut shop, and Lucia, the daughter in a family that only passed its trade through its sons. 

This book is weird, most definitely. Despite having read the summary when I requested a copy for review, I was extremely surprised when the aliens showed up. I was reading the beginning, thinking, “OK, this girl plays the violin, this violin teacher needs a new student, I see where this is going,” and then, boom! Aliens. It was not what I was expecting at all. But it works.

A blend of fantasy, romance, science fiction, and contemporary elements (and even some magical realism), this book manages to be hopeful and optimistic while not shying away from the realities facing young, queer people of color. Katrina, newly transitioning, has some horrifying experiences and deals with a lot of transphobia. (Note: This book contains depictions of sexual assault, use of dead names, and misgendering.) While not being trans myself, I have seen a few reviews praising the little details about Katrina’s experience, such as rationing her hormone supply and worrying about which bathroom to use.

But as I said, it is also a story of hope. For Katrina finds a place where she’s appreciated when she grabs the attention of Shizuka, a violin teacher with a Faustian deal, one soul short of freeing herself of her bargain and only a year left in which to do so. Shizuka could care less that Katrina is trans, or that her violin was paid for with sex work; all that Shizuka cares about is how Katrina’s playing makes her feel. And yes, she intends to harvest Katrina’s soul to fulfill her contract, but nobody’s perfect.

I’ve also seen it noted that Light from Uncommon Stars is a great tribute to the violin and an accurate portrayal of the overall violin community, focusing on the racism (Shizuka is heralded as one of the greatest teachers, but Katrina’s Chinese violin is sneered at), sexism (Lucia runs the family violin repair shop, but she was never properly taught because it’s “not for little girls”), and elitism (Katrina has had no formal training, and she prefers to play video game music than anything classical).

Told in brief snippets, the book is full of important themes like connecting with others, redemption, the immigrant experience, the benefits of community, the noble art of listening, how uplifting it can be to have an outlet and a voice even in an awful situation, and how even in dark times you can find a friendly face. But most importantly, it’s permeated with a genuine love of music and food, and an appreciation for their restorative qualities.

I could really go for a donut right now.

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Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki is published by Tor Books and is currently available wherever books are sold.

*I received an advance copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.*

Author: Jamie Sugah

Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.


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