Review: Stella by Helen Eve

Unexpectedly brilliant novel that I haven’t stopped thinking about since.


Stella summary

Seventeen-year-old Stella Hamilton is the star blazing at the heart of Temperley High School. Leader of a maliciously exclusive elite, she is surrounded by adulation – envied and lusted after in equal measure. And she is in the final stage of a five-year campaign to achieve her destiny: love with her equally popular male equivalent, and triumph as Head Girl on election night.

By contrast, new girl Caitlin Clarke has until now lived a quietly conformist life in New York. With the collapse of her parents’ marriage, she has been sent across the Atlantic for an English boarding school education, only to discover that at Temperley the only important rules are the unwritten ones. It’s a world of the beautiful and the dangerous, and acceptance means staying on the right side of Stella Hamilton, the most beautiful and dangerous of them all.

Not everyone is happy to be under the Hamilton rule. But fighting the system means treading the same dark path as Stella – and if Caitlin puts a foot wrong, it’s a long way to fall.

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My thoughts

I can’t tell you how much Stella surprised me. I absolutely loved it.

Stella is unlike any novel I’ve read before. It’s haunting, and the way it twists your perceptions of characters is very, very clever. It captivated me completely and I didn’t expect to find it so deeply moving. I couldn’t put it down and even now I cannot stop thinking about it.

I know that there are people who really didn’t enjoy this book, and I think I understand why, but others, like me, fell head over heels in love with it. Maybe it’s because it’s unexpected. The summary makes it sound quite light, with a Mean Girls/Pretty Little Liars/Gossip Girl feel. And while there are definitely elements of that in there, it’s much more than that, and the deep, dark undertone might not appeal to everyone.

But I think the point is you’re not supposed to love these characters in the same way you normally would when you’re reading a first person narrative. Stella switches between Stella and Caitlin’s point of view, and there will be times when you hate both of them with a passion, but that’s exactly why I loved it. They’re complex characters with so many layers it’s incredible.

The messages within this book are so, so important. They remind us not to believe everything you see. On face value you’d think that Stella is completely confident and happy, and that’s exactly why everyone wants to be her, but that couldn’t be much further from the truth. Discovering why she acts the way she does and finding out more about her family was one of my favourite elements to this novel, and I really found myself rooting for her in the end despite her many, many flaws.

The only downfall to this novel is the ending. I liked the way it ended, but I did see it coming and I also found one of the chapters extremely confusing. I’d have liked to have seen a bit more time taken on the ending to help the reader understand it a bit better.

That said, I thought that Helen Eve left the characters in such a great place at the end. The symmetry of the storyline and the cycle that threads through it is almost poetic, and it left me speechless with my heart in my throat.

I feel like slightly older readers who’ve already left school might be more likely to enjoy Stella, and if you decide to pick up this novel I urge you to dive in with a completely open mind. It’s definitely a Marmite book that you’ll either love or hate but I’d encourage you to find out because if you love it the way I did you’ll be thinking about it and talking about it for years to come.

My rating:

***** 5/5 stars

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