Sam Jones and Zoe Miller have one thing in common: they both want an escape from reality. Loner Sam flies under the radar at school and walks on eggshells at home to manage her mom’s obsessive-compulsive disorder, wondering how she can ever leave to pursue her dream of studying aerospace engineering. Popular, people-pleasing Zoe puts up walls so no one can see her true self: the girl who was abandoned as an infant, whose adoptive mother has cancer, and whose disabled brother is being sent away to live in a facility. When an unexpected encounter results in the girls’ exchanging phone numbers, they forge a connection through text messages that expands into a private universe they call Starworld. In Starworld, they find hilarious adventures, kindness and understanding, and the magic of being seen for who they really are. But when Sam’s feelings for Zoe turn into something more, will the universe they’ve built survive the inevitable explosion?
When Zoe approaches Sam about using one of her paintings in an upcoming play, Sam is freaked out to be speaking to someone on Zoe's level at the school. Eventually, the girls develop a friendship and bond over the home lives and family challenges that they're both trying to hide from everyone else. The two girls build a special world through text messages that they both visit when real life becomes too much, and Starworld is both a refuge and a secret that they share.
Although the girls' families provide plenty of tension and drama, the plot is made even more intense as Sam struggles with her romantic feelings for Zoe--and Zoe is completely oblivious.
STARWORLD by Audrey Coulthurst and Paula Garner is told in alternating voices, and the book does a great job of balancing drama and humor. I raced through the pages, and I was rooting for both girls to find safety and happiness. The characters of Zoe and Sam are both developed well, though Sam has a bit more depth--it's possible that's because she has to stand on her own so much while Zoe has more of a supporting cast with other friendships and a larger family. I enjoyed the story itself, and although I ended up skimming the sections where the girls' texts took them deep into Starworld, those forays didn't detract too much from the real relationships surrounding them.
All in all, STARWORLD is a completely charming book, and I loved being a fly on the wall through Sam and Zoe's story. My thanks to YA Books Central and the publisher for a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.