- ISBN-13: 9781442459533
- ISBN-10: 1442459530
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
- Publish Date: July 2013
- Page Count: 441
- Reading Level: Ages 12-UP
- Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.6 x 1.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.15 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-05-13
- Reviewer: Staff
In this gripping dystopian/generation-ship hybrid, the Asherah, centuries into its journey with less than a thousand souls on board, is mere months from making landfall. Its destination is the planet Zehava, where the largely Jewish crew hopes to survive long after the Earth was destroyed by an asteroid strike (one of the starship’s express goals is “the survival of Jewish traditions and culture even in the diaspora of space”). Life aboard is difficult, strictly regulated by the ruling Council and the necessities of scarcity. Fifteen-year-old Terra Fineberg is deeply bitter about her limited choices, both in terms of her profession, which will be chosen for her, and her potential suitors. Then she witnesses a murder and discovers a slogan carved into a tree, “Liberty on Earth. Liberty on Zehava,” and becomes enmeshed in a dangerous conspiracy to overthrow the Council. North eloquently depicts a culture trapped in a cycle of ritual and duty; the colonists’ efforts to preserve their heritage unfold in fascinating, sometimes disturbing ways. This richly textured first novel deserves to be widely read. Ages 12–up. Agent: Michelle Andelman, Regal Literary. (July)
Headed to the promised planet
Five hundred years ago, Terra’s ancestors left a dying Earth for life aboard the Asherah, a spaceship bound for the distant planet Zehava. Over time, their well-intended plan to preserve their society—and their secular Jewish heritage—has hardened into a set of authoritarian rules: Everyone must marry and raise a family, and occupations and corresponding class structures are determined by an elite Council. Obedience is a mitzvah—part good deed, part commandment—and deviances are not tolerated.
As the Asherah approaches Zehava, Terra is almost 16—the age at which she must choose a mate or risk being assigned one. Her father has never recovered from her mother’s unusual early death; her older brother is distant; and her longtime best friend has concerns of her own. Terra’s passion is drawing, but her new career placement seems not to involve art at all. And at night, Terra dreams of an unseen lover—her bashert, Hebrew for “heart’s twin.”
When Terra accidentally stumbles on an underground anti-Council resistance movement, the certainties in her world begin to disappear. Readers familiar with the structure of YA dystopias may think they know what to expect next, but author Phoebe North demonstrates that a futuristic tale of love, rebellion and the search for identity can still offer some surprises. Life on the spaceship is meticulously described, and journal entries from an original passenger—a lesbian grieving her own lost lover—add context from the early days of the voyage. Hebrew and Yiddish phrases sprinkled throughout the text are clearly defined in context, but subtly altered definitions hint at the intriguing ways that words can change over time. In the end, many questions are answered . . . but many new ones take their place, to be pursued in a follow-up novel, Starbreak, in 2014.