Review: Ziggy, Stardust and Me | James Brandon

Ziggy, Stardust and Me | James Brandon


Hardcover: 347 pgs.

Publisher: Putnam

Publication Date: August 6, 2019


The year is 1973. The Watergate hearings are in full swing. The Vietnam War is still raging. And homosexuality is still officially considered a mental illness. In the midst of these trying times is sixteen-year-old Jonathan Collins, a bullied, anxious, asthmatic kid, who aside from an alcoholic father and his sympathetic neighbor and friend Starla, is completely alone.

To cope, Jonathan escapes to the safe haven of his imagination, where his hero David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and dead relatives, including his mother, guide him through the rough terrain of his life. In his alternate reality, Jonathan can be anything: a superhero, an astronaut, Ziggy Stardust, himself, or completely “normal” and not a boy who likes other boys. When he completes his treatments, he will be normal—at least he hopes. But before that can happen, Web stumbles into his life. Web is everything Jonathan wishes he could be: fearless, fearsome and, most importantly, not ashamed of being gay.

Jonathan doesn’t want to like brooding Web, who has secrets all his own. Jonathan wants nothing more than to be “fixed” once and for all. But he’s drawn to Web anyway. Web is the first person in the real world to see Jonathan completely and think he’s perfect. Web is a kind of escape Jonathan has never known. For the first time in his life, he may finally feel free enough to love and accept himself as he is.

We must see each other for who we really are. Beyond this form. It is the only way.”

First and foremost, I think it needs to be said that this is one of the most beautiful covers in YA Fiction right now. The color composition is striking and the artwork is just so lovely. Hands down one of my favorite covers I have on my shelves.

As for the book, I loved it. Jonathan, or Jonny, is an incredibly likable character. His brand of humor is just the right mix of wit and sarcasm, and I was never bored with his thoughts. The author nails the 70s slang and in doing so, Brandon creates an individual who is unique, compassionate, and imaginative. There were a few times, however, that I became a bit exhausted by overused phrases like (WHAMBAMTHANKYOUMA’AM) or by other character quirks (like naming an inhaler PeterPaulandMary ). Jonny is already individualistic. Those extra idiosyncrasies seemed a bit much at times.

I must admit that I had to read up on David Bowie and his alter ego, Ziggy Stardust, in order to really understand Jonny’s admiration of the persona. I found myself listening to Bowie songs and debating the lyrics just to keep up, but I think that speaks well to the author’s ability to inspire his readers to further research the topic of sexuality and the impact of Ziggy during this particular time period. Some references went right over my head, but for all that I didn’t know about the music, the style, or culture of the 70s, I could see that the author’s knowledge of such things added a rich layer of context to the characters and the world that they lived in.

On the moon…together…where nothing’s broken–“

Jonny’s struggle with his sexual identity is due largely in part to public perception, seeing that homosexuality was considered an illness that must be cured, and those that were “affected” were considered sexual predators who must be avoided, punished, or rehabilitated. There weren’t that many scenes that explored Jonny’s “treatments” but the lingering effects of conversion therapy reared its ugly little head every time Jonny interacted with Web.

It was upsetting watching Jonny grapple with his identity, as the world tells him that he is broken and must be fixed. He too thinks he must be “fixed” but the painful therapy sessions and his growing love for Web challenge everything that he has been told to believe. With the aid of his messiah, an imagined vision of Ziggy Stardust, and some advice from loved ones who have passed, Jonny slowly discovers the truth of all that he is.

Web is a wonderful character for a variety of reasons. He is a positive love interest for Jonny and while I do think that his and Jonny’s romance seems to just happen, their chemistry is undeniable. Their quiet moments with one another are some of the most beautiful and their blossoming love is poetry. I do think that their relationship starts out running but at least there are some bumps in the road to slow them down.

‘I like being on the moon with you, Mr. Astronaut.’

Not only does Brandon tackle the issue of the perception of homosexuality in the 70s, he also spotlights the plight of the indigenous peoples of North America through Web. Together, Web and Jonny serve as representatives of two different communities, both ostracized and targeted by many a bigot then and now. It’s an eye-opening book that encourages readers to explore not just the history of the LGBTQ2+ community but to also take notice and explore the story of Native American peoples and their cultures.

All this to say: this is an important book. It is a poignant, coming-of-age tale that will touch your heart. The journey is distressing and the ending is bittersweet, but the prose and the characters give light to the story. And even though it’s not perfect, the message is there and the glittering soul of it will make you feel like you too can float to the stars.

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5

7 thoughts on “Review: Ziggy, Stardust and Me | James Brandon

  1. I love it I love it! I have seen it and consider it at some point but never got to read the synopsis! THank you so much Asia! I am so adding this book to my TBR! I love the review so so good! Thank you!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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