Hope and Struggle Intertwined: Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Akio Review

Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Akio
Available on Bookshop.Org*
Genre: Science-Fiction

This book takes deeply personal, heavy topics and adds a loving, caring layer of whimsy. In many ways, this book is in the same space as the film Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022),  where a full range of emotions are present in almost every scene. Like the film, this is a book written by an Asian trans author, and this book is about trans and Asian experiences.

Normally, I leave discussion about representation until the end of my reviews, as I find that talking solely about a book's representation takes away from talking about what the book is about; it becomes another way that authors from oppressed groups struggle to have their work taken seriously. However, this book is about transness and living in diasporic communities. The three most prominent characters include:

  • Katrina, a young trans woman, who has run away from home amid the threat of physical violence. Her new situation isn't much better - until a violin teacher hears her practicing in the park.
  • Shizuka Satomi, the violin teacher, who is in her own bind. She sold her soul to Hell, and in order to avoid condemnation to endless suffering, she needs to find another student (her seventh) to make their own deal with the devil.
  • Lan Tran, who has shepherded her family away from a war, moving across time and space, to buy a Big Donut and attempt to open a tourist attraction.

There are moments that feel soul-soothingly sweet, such as when Satomi and Lan meet for the first time and their unfolding romance. An alien running a donut shop and a woman that's helped 6 souls be condemned to hell doesn't sound like an ideal meet-cute, but it is. Watching them lean on each and grow together is also sweet, as it provides clear avenues where characters make mistakes, learn why they were wrong, and attempt to make amends.

However, this cast of characters are each constrained by their positions in life. While exploring the way their needs and desires conflict, the book becomes a sometimes-joyful, sometimes-sorrowful exploration of humanity, possibility, and souls. As the characters uncover Satomi's motivation for taking Katrina on as a student, they react in different ways: resignation, disgust, and attempts to find alternatives.

As wholesome as the book also feels, it explicitly shows the steps each character takes for survival, and presents those choices with understanding and compassion. Do note that this includes scenes of characters experiencing transphobia through verbal, physical and sexual abuse, homophobic and racist slurs, suicidal ideation and self-harm. However, these difficult moments are presented alongside moments of joy, mimicking the way that life mixes together. Ultimately, there is also a happy ending and hope for the future.

Representation Notes:

  • Trans main character
  • Wide range of characters of color, including both main and secondary characters, with a focus on characters from Asia or Asian disapora
  • Alien refugee character explicitly tied to contemporary refugee communities
  • Romance between two women
  • Asian trans author

Content Notes:

  • Multiple instances of transphobia, including heckling and deadnaming
  • Sexual assault
  • Physical assault
  • Use of slurs (anti-Asian racist, transphobic and homophobic slurs)
  • Sexual content

Not Sure? Try Other Reviews:

Next Week's Review: Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo

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