Kate Sheeran Swed’s Bypass the Stars holds the distinction as the first book I read in full in my capacity as SPSFC judge. It was one of 30 books randomly assigned to my team, and we collectively voted it as one of ten to continue past the first 20%, so reading this book was decided as much by external factors as by my own volition, but I was one of the judges intrigued by the opening and ready to read on, and the young adult target audience made it a nice change of pace after a period of reading that had gotten much heavier than my standard.
Bypass the Stars features 17 year-old Frankie Hartiger, a genius chafing against the indifference of her famous parents, who have pushed her to the side in favor of Jord, the world’s first extraterrestrial immigrant and now heir to Pathbound Enterprises and the closely guarded technology that allowed the Hartigers to make contact with alien life. But when an accident aboard an interstellar transport leaves the elder Hartigers missing and presumed dead, only Frankie has the combination of optimism and know-how to attempt a rescue.
I’m not always convinced by the interpersonal interactions, but Bypass the Stars offers excellent plotting that never goes too far between the key moments that keep the reader invested. The big reveals are foreshadowed well enough to feel earned but with a sufficiently light touch to still feel surprising—a difficult balance that goes a long way toward a satisfying conclusion.
And, while I find the character work more inconsistent, there are some excellent moments on the character side as well, particularly in the handling of the lead. Frankie is obviously brilliant, and seeing through her eyes makes it easy to justify every action she takes over the course of the book. But her friends make it clear that Frankie has a nasty tendency to treat her intelligence as a justification for acting without regard to the agency of those around her, and fighting that impulse is a constant source of conflict, both internal and external. And it doesn’t take long for the reader to understand that this disregard for others may be a family trait, and Frankie’s reckoning with the shortcomings of her parents provides an excellent internal conflict that progresses layer-by-layer over the course of the novel.
The communication with other characters, on the other hand, is a weakness. The side characters do, by-and-large, have genuine motivations for their actions, but the link between those motivations and the actions and conversations just never quite feels natural. There are off-and-on miscommunications and hiding of information that feel somewhat understandable but a bit inconsistent, and the romantic pairings really don’t have the chemistry to make them believable. None of it is especially egregious, but that smoothness that helps the reader sink seamlessly into the story just isn’t quite there.
Overall, the quality of the plotting makes this a fun read, and the challenges and development of the main character make it a rewarding one, but the inconsistency in the side characters and interpersonal interactions holds it back from being a true must-read.
Recommended if you like: YA sci-fi, big reveals, leads with room to grow.
Can I use it for Bingo? It’s hard mode for Self-Published and is also a 2021 Release. I think you could argue there’s also a Mystery Plot (also hard mode), and it’s very likely to be hard mode New-To-You Author.
Overall rating: 14 of Tar Vol’s 20. Four stars on Goodreads.
SPSFC Score: 7/10 for my personal score. We will await ratings from the remaining judges before releasing an official team score.