Swearing Off Stars

Written by Danielle M. Wong
Review by Janice Ottersberg

As we know, the world of the 1920s through 1950s and beyond was anything but kind and understanding to lesbian and gay people. This story takes place across that time span in England, America, and Hong Kong. Amelia (Lia) and Scarlett meet at Oxford University and fall in love. Lia tires of the secrecy and Scarlett’s refusal to make their affair public. She leaves to return to her home in America, and we follow her life to 1930, when she returns to London and briefly connects with Scarlett, then through to 1949 where the two women again pick up their affair in Hong Kong. There is another breakup for the same reason as the first, and Lia again returns home.

I wanted a book of more depth that realistically showed societies’ attitudes and the true conflicts and consequences of sustaining a lesbian relationship. The only obstacles the two women face are maintaining public secrecy and a misunderstanding around an undelivered letter. Both Lia’s and Scarlett’s fathers are very accepting and happy for the two women. Lia tells her boyfriend when he starts to propose. He responds, “I’m proud of you, Lia. I just want you to be happy,” and moves on with his life: not a credible emotion. The time setting doesn’t ring true. I felt the characters’ conversations and social interaction were too modern and conveniently dropped into a 1920s campus setting, or in 1930 or 1950. I was also bothered by other anachronistic missteps. Lia notices the airport security line is moving quickly on her way to Hong Kong in 1949, and she boards the plane via the terminal ramp. Back then, there was no airport security, and boarding meant using stairs on the tarmac. Sadly, I can only recommend this for anyone who wants a light romance and can ignore the anachronisms.