Jepp, Who Defied the Stars
Shakespeare once wrote, "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars/but in ourselves, that we are underlings" Julius Caesar (1, ii, 140-141). Cassius says this to Brutus when trying to convince him to kill Caesar. What he means is that it is not fate that has caused their misfortunes, but their own acquiescence to Caesar as a ruler. If they could overthrow him, they could change their fates for the better. Though this doesn't turn out quite so well for Brutus, I still think that had Jepp, hyperliterate dwarf cum hero, been able to read these words, they would have given him much heart.
"Some cannot escape what the stars have plotted for them, either because they believe too much in their veracity or because they lack the force of will to try, but Jepp proves to himself (and to the person who ultimately matters most to him) that we are who we make ourselves."
But, alas cruel fate! Jepp's story is set some 25 years before Shakespeare set those words to paper, and the bulk of his story is his search for both his father and for proof that it is not our fates that define our futures but our actions and choices. And Jepp accomplishes both those aims in Katherine Marsh's intelligent and ambitious quest tale and coming of age story that spans not only several countries but also several social classes.
One of the supporting characters in JEPP, WHO DEFIED THE STARS states that some people's lives are a continuous narrative and others' lives are split up into different volumes. Jepp is clearly of the latter type, as his tale is split into three parts; the first part is a frame story that switches back and forth from Jepp's captivity in the present to his childhood and first few years away from home. The reader catches up to Jepp in part two, when he moves to a new home at which he thinks he will be miserable but instead is where he ends up finding almost everything he wants and needs. The third part finds him enlightened and searching to answer lingering questions from his past. The separate parts, and their different structures, could leave the novel feeling disjointed, but instead, the novel feels cohesive because within each part, Jepp learns something about himself or his world that informs his actions and logic in the part that follows. However, parts two and three feel stronger than part one because the reader is actually with Jepp through his trials and triumphs and self discoveries, rather than hearing him narrate those from his past.
The novel also feels cohesive because the theme of fate versus free will. The motif of stars also permeates every section of the novel and affects every character. Some cannot escape what the stars have plotted for them, either because they believe too much in their veracity or because they lack the force of will to try, but Jepp proves to himself (and to the person who ultimately matters most to him) that we are who we make ourselves. Though this line of thinking does not work out very well for Brutus in Julius Caesar, it allows Jepp to realize all the potential his quick mind offers him in this twisty, suspenseful and emotional tale.
Reviewed by Erin Allen on November 27, 2012