Light from Uncommon Starsby Ryka Aoki
Published on September 28, 2021
Format: Hardcover Source: Library
Good Omens meets The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet in this defiantly joyful adventure set in California's San Gabriel Valley, with cursed violins, Faustian bargains, and queer alien courtship over fresh-made donuts.
Shizuka Satomi made a deal with the devil: to escape damnation, she must entice seven other violin prodigies to trade their souls for success. She has already delivered six.
When Katrina Nguyen, a young transgender runaway, catches Shizuka's ear with her wild talent, Shizuka can almost feel the curse lifting. She's found her final candidate.
But in a donut shop off a bustling highway in the San Gabriel Valley, Shizuka meets Lan Tran, retired starship captain, interstellar refugee, and mother of four. Shizuka doesn't have time for crushes or coffee dates, what with her very soul on the line, but Lan's kind smile and eyes like stars might just redefine a soul's worth. And maybe something as small as a warm donut is powerful enough to break a curse as vast as the California coastline.
As the lives of these three women become entangled by chance and fate, a story of magic, identity, curses, and hope begins, and a family worth crossing the universe for is found.
Every review of this book I’ve seen starts out by saying that the reader isn’t sure how to describe it. I’m going to have to echo that sentiment. Just know that it is amazing and you should go read it even if you have no idea what it is about.
There are two main parts of the story with a minor subplot.
A violinist has made a pact with a demon. To get out of it she needs to deliver the souls of seven exceptional violinists to him over the course of 49 years. She has delivered six souls. Her time is almost up. She meets a runaway transgender girl who plays beautifully. She is completely self-taught with terrible technique but she is amazing. The teacher takes her in to groom her to be the seventh soul.
A family of aliens has landed on Earth. They bought a donut shop that has a large fiberglass donut outside because they want to use the donut as a space gate. Running the donut shop is their cover. This book will make you want to try their donuts.
A woman from a family of violin restorers is trying to keep her family’s store alive.
So how does that all come together? That’s the beauty of the story. I’m not going to say too much because watching it all come together is part of the fun.
There is a lot of tough subjects here especially surrounding Katrina, the young violinist. She has been abused by her family and has had to leave her house because she is trans. She supports herself with sex work. She is verbally, physically, and sexually abused by clients and strangers. She experiences a lot of transphobia online and in the music community. Some of it is instigated by the demon just to cause her pain.
She’s delightful though. She knows who she is and what she wants to accomplish. She is caring in spite of the world not always caring about her.
This book is about the importance of family, music, and food to heal your soul. You will learn a lot about why violins are special. There are lyrical descriptions of lots of food – not just donuts. Family takes center stage – whether they are healthy or abusive, strong or weak, biological or found.
I’d recommend this book to everyone.