Member Reviews

Before beginning I just want to thank NetGalley and Saraband for giving me a copy to review!

How We Named the Stars explores themes of sexuality and grief, primarily through our main character Daniel de La Luna; a shy student having just started his first year in college, whose life will be upended and changed forever by his new roommate, Samuel Morris.

I genuinely cannot imagine a world in which someone asks me “What’s your favourite book?” and I do not at least consider How We Named the Stars. It was simply brilliant. I have never been so emotionally impacted from a book, which is a fancy way of saying I was sobbing for the majority of the book. Not only is the plot amazing, with a lovely twist in that we already know the ending, but the actual writing capacity of Ordorica is insane. Utterly beautiful and enchanting in every single way.

How We Named the Stars is quite frankly one of the most triumphant books I have ever had the pleasure of reading, and the fact that this is a debut novel leaves me in awe.

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4.5 ✨

“What hurt the most was when I started to forget your voice, what it sounded like to hear you say my name aloud; started to forget how hearing you say my name was a way of seeing myself as I had never seen myself-someone free from how my family saw me—and how you gave my name new meaning, new weight.”

How We Named The Stars is a beautiful debut from Andrés N. Ordorica’s, about a Mexican-American teenager, Daniel. The novel is him retelling the story of his short time spent with his jock roommate Sam at University, and the story is directed at Sam. The relationship is standard; they become friends and fall in love, but this is broken off when Sam decides he isn’t ready to come out and Daniel travels briefly back to México to keep an eye on his grandfather, his world is upended when Sam suddenly dies (not a spoiler, it’s on the first page).

People’s views are a mixed bag for this one, but as a biased queer who lost someone they loved young, I was all over it. (The quote above is what sold it for me, my name was given to me by someone no longer here, so that Hit.)
Sure, some of the dialogue and plot is a little clunky, but for the most part Ordorica provides a poetic, aching narrative. The pace probably could have eased off a little bit, but I enjoyed how fast everything happened, especially as it is Daniel recounting his experience - grief can feel like a whirlwind at times.
My biggest issue lies with Diego. His character comes in at a point where he seems necessary but the way this plot point develops just didn’t feel right to me.

Overall, I loved this and am excited to see what else Ordorica does in the future. The writing is really beautiful and touched me.

Thank you to Saraband and Netgalley for the ARC!

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How We Named The Stars, Andrés N. Ordorica’s debut, is about a Mexican-American teenager, Daniel, who describes himself as ‘quiet, short, geeky and brown’. When he meets his jock roommate Sam at Cayuga University (the invented name seems to be a reference to one of the Native American peoples who are part of the Haudenosaunee/Iroquois confederacy in upstate New York), he’s just relieved that Sam doesn’t bully him. But after they fall in love and Daniel travels briefly back to México to keep an eye on his grandfather, his world is upended when Sam suddenly dies (this is not a spoiler, it is on the first page of the first chapter). Sadly, this novel did not work for me at all. The writing is incredibly repetitive and self-indulgent, reminiscent of Hua Hsu’s Stay True, which is also about a young immigrant man at an American university who suddenly loses a friend. A lot of people rated that one, though, so I’ll let you decide for yourself if this kind of thing is your bag, repeated x 100:

'I was happy, and now, looking back, I am grateful I have these memories of you, that I can remember it all with such vividness. Wherever you are, are you remembering it the same way? How the birds flew overhead, weaving from branch to branch, following us as we hiked up the path. How the squirrels scaled trees, chasing one another. Everything had its purpose and understood its seasonality and temporality in that place. Just like us.'

Dialogue is also clunky, as the characters have the habit of just telling each other exactly what they’re thinking (this feels especially unrealistic for Sam, who is struggling with his sexuality, and is supposedly not being honest with Daniel), and not using contractions:

'“Honestly, Daniel, I am so glad you are my roommate,” you said, out of nowhere.

“What makes you say that?”

“You just make me happy. To have someone who is a genuine friend but not in my classes, or on my soccer team, or just like, you know… I know I sound drunk but what I’m trying to say is… well… at the party I was thinking how it’s nice to have a friend who is a friend because we actually get each other. You’re not like other guys, not some self-centred asshole. You’re… you are a really nice person, Daniel.”'

I was dismayed to see that How We Named The Stars was picked as one of the Observer’s best debuts of 2024, where it’s billed as ‘joyfully updating the campus novel for the 21st century’ (have there not been plenty of them since the year 2000? Including many gay/immigrant/Black ones?) In the end, this felt very YA. The plot unfolds in manner of a soap opera, which makes it superficially easy to read and kept me flipping pages, but I wasn’t ultimately won over. 2.5 stars.

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After a series of 3 stars reads, I don't know why I thought a book with no magic in it would be a good idea, but as it turns out, it was an excellent idea and I was finally invested in a book. The format of it, a letter addressed to Sam recalling all Daniel and him had lived, was compelling, as we know immediately how the story will end. The story was mostly sweet (I did cry at some particular moments) and I enjoyed it, even if it was nothing extraordinary. Although, reading about how a young latino reconnects with his "motherland" and his family still feels extraordinary. I did enjoy learning more about his uncle and discovering he hadn't died of a hate crime as I initially thought.

I didn't give the book 5 stars because sometimes the dialogues were awkward or didn't feel natural, especially with his parents and his abuelo. I was also frustrated of how little we learnt about Daniel's friends because all their interactions were all about him EVEN when he did realise he was a self-centered to the point of not knowing one of his friends was not, in fact, white. I understand it's because it's a letter and Sam maybe doesn't care about that, but still.

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A tender and devastating book about the transformative power of first love and queer identity. The characters of Daniel and Sam stayed with me for a long time after turning the final page. Highly recommended.

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A tender, devastating, beautiful letter of first love, grief, and reconnecting with the lost pieces of yourself and your culture. If you are queer, you probably know parts of this story innately.

I loved it, I’ll be thinking about Daniel and Sam for a long time.

Thank you so much to Sarabrand and NetGalley for this DRC!

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How We Named the Stars was a beautiful, heartbreaking read. A compelling story of coming-of-age, queerness and grief, it left me with so many emotions. Some chapters had me grinning and in others I was close to tears. I loved following Daniel's story and the narrative style really worked for me. Overall, a great read!

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This is a beautifully written, heart breaking story. I loved reading this book from Daniel's perspective - his voice was warm and inviting and I immediately related to him and his character. I loved how much this book focused on family, and love and joy, while also showing Daniel going through a very hard time and grieving. The balance between the two was just right and showcased the goodness in life. The storytelling felt natural, I enjoyed the diary insert snippets, and thought the book also did a really good job at showing how nerve wracking and terrifying starting college can be, especially so far away from home. All over, a very solid book and I think this will find a place in many readers hearts.

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Daniel lost Sam. How We Named the Stars follows Daniel's memories of the time he fell in love for the first time, and how he lost Sam shortly after. Roommates at university, both try to figure out who they are, as singular people and to each other. This novel helped me realise that I do not like the Foreshadowing device. Knowing that Sam dies from the first page is not making it more dramatic for me.Also the rest being POV Daniel and how he remembers it, it is all "This is us"-ish, a version of Sam, that I never really bought into. I kept wondering who he might have really been without the grief and love overdrawing this character as "perfect".  The beginning led me to believe this would be a forgettable short palate cleanser. I read a version of this many times before, which just shows that I like the topic. But I kept hoping for the spark, think "Swimming in the dark". By the halfway point it was enjoyable, I preferred the setting in Mexico. Overall a mixed bag with it being too much ( that last email ) and at the same time not enough.

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4.75 stars.

Thank you NetGalley and Saraband for the ARC.

To me, Andres N. Ordorica's 'How We Named the Stars' was written like an eulogy. It was equal parts poetic, heartbreaking, romantic and hopeful. I loved the concept and the story. The final few chapters absolutely wrecked me. I honestly didn't want this book to finish. It was so, so, so, sooooo good!

Andres!! I can't wait to read more of your work!

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Bereits jetzt eines meiner Jahreshighlights. Wunderbar geschrieben und unheimlich berührend. Würde ich vor allem allen empfehlen, die Fans von Ocean Vuong sind!

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"How We Named the Stars" is a tender exploration of the what-ifs, the what-could-have-beens. It narrows its focus on illuminating themes of grief, belonging, first love and first complex feelings that comes with secrecy.
Daniel is a first generation college student at an elite university on the East Coast, he's far from home and he is eagerly terrified of proving himself and making his parents proud. As he meets his roommate Sam, things drastically change and Daniel is forced to accept his own feelings and reckon with the meaning of them, as well as trying to understand whether Sam's friendship could ever turn into more.
However, Daniel's life is due to change dramatically and his own perception of life and relationships.
This novel reads like a diary, detailing conversations and feelings as they happen, so that we can be close to the character's inner self the entire time.
I highly enjoyed the pace and the story, however I did notice the dialogues being a little stiff and unimaginative at times, which is totally understandable for a debut and a new author. I still believe this is an excellent and poignant book full of sentiment, warmth and valuable lessons.

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Thanks Saraband and NetGalley for this ARC.

OMG, what a book! This coming of age story of tender first love following the journey of the young Daniel de La Luna who thinks he's sharing rooms with someone who reminds him of his nemesis, but in the end it's love, some tears and heartache, laughter at times , loss and a whole lot more for Daniel and Sam with so many Mexican cultural references that I felt transported.

I had to put this book down so many times, why? Because at the end of it all- I just didn't want it to end! I was vested in the story and Andres n Ordorica in such. beautiful lyrical and haunting fashion, that this book stayed with me for ages after I put it down. Just please be prepared with some Kleenex at times is all I can say without giving too much of the plot away.

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This is a tale of young love, loss, sexuality and grief. The author does not hold back with the words, having finished it I discovered he writes poetry and there is indeed something about the prose, a slightly lengthy floweriness, which made me think I was reading a translation.
It is told very much from the point of view of a young man wallowing in his own self and experiences; of course he is the most fascinating thing to exist, and of course this type of confusion and pain has never been experienced by anyone else. Thank goodness for the grandfather who is the voice of reason, pointing out that actually none of this drama is new.
Saying that, I would be delighted if I had written this - ever, let alone as a debut novel. Just be prepared for more navel gazing than star gazing.

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This was a lovely, heartfelt and moving read. A thoughtful coming of age novel that captured the pain and beauty of recognising your sexuality and navigating love and relationships, but taken to greater depths of emotion with its discussion and treatment of death, grief, and the second generation immigrant experience.

I found the narrative very effective. It is written as a letter by the protagonist Daniel to his dead love Sam (this is stated in the first pages, no spoiler!) Interspersed with diary entries from his uncle 40 years prior, and these gave the novel a very open and emotionally direct tone. This worked very well with the themes of the novel and helped to make it a very immersive read.

Both Daniel and Sam were very well developed characters, I did wish there had been a little more with some of the secondary characters though, especially a major one in the second half who seemed to move from angel to evil in a couple of pages. I think it was supposed to be more representative of Daniel's fluctuating feelings and a not entirely reliable narrator, but it felt a little off to me. But aside from this, I really enjoyed the book and thoroughly recommend it.

*I received a free ARC and I have chosen to leave a review*

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How We Named The Stars is the debut novel by Ordorica, about a Mexican American boy who goes to college and falls in love, and then has deal with heartbreak and loss. Daniel de La Luna moves from California to Ithaca, New York to start college, where he, feeling out of place, meets his new roommate, athletic Sam. Despite seeming like the opposite of Daniel, they quickly become close, and then in love, as the first year of college speeds away from them, but by the end of the year, they are separated. Daniel's summer in Mexico unearths his family's past, and then tragedy forces Daniel to reckon with the dead.

Having read Ordorica's poetry, I was excited for this novel, and it surpassed my expectations, as a tender coming of age novel that explores how to move forward with heartbreak and grief, drawing strength from family and friends and a sense of queer community that spans time. It is told as Daniel's recollections, narrating to Sam, with each chapter started by a diary snippet from Daniel's uncle, who died before he was born. Through this perspective, you find out early on what happens at the tragic climax of the book, so the narrative is built around getting there, and then moving past it. Unlike some coming of age books featuring death and grief, this one felt complex and careful, asking what it means to keep going on living, especially when someone dies young.

There's also a fantastic sense of queer community throughout the novel, from Daniel immediately finding gay friends when he starts college to ideas of cross-generational community even when you cannot ever meet someone. Even though it is romantic love at the centre of the book, it is also very much about queer friendship and about different kinds of friendship and love between people, and about learning about those as you grow up. At the same time, it is also about finding people like you, as Daniel is constantly realising how vital it is for him to find both people and writing that go beyond the straight, White experience.

Both the college and Mexico settings are vividly realised and this is a bittersweet book that doesn't wallow in tragedy, but instead depicts sadness, love, and healing in a multifaceted way. How We Named The Stars is a gripping novel powered by character that feels like the next part of the lineage of queer coming of age literary fiction.

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I'm obsessed with this book! Beautifully written, being able to step into the world of Daniel and Sam for a little while was an absolute joy.

Ordorica navigates the journeys of grief, adulthood and exploring queerness in a thoughtful and sensitive way, with his poetry background shining through in this beautiful novel.

Warning, you will cry.. (and want to go back for more!)

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This is a very assured debut novel dealing with large issues, of first love, of loss, of the weight of the past, of hope in the undiscovered. It is not without faults-the lushness of language and intensity of emotion sometimes reaches over-ripeness and tips into hysteria-yet overall it conveys accurately and fearlessly the ache and uncertainty of first love with rawness, tenderness and perspicacity.

I was reminded at times of two very different authors for very different reasons. The richness of description had echoes of Evelyn Waugh in “Brideshead Revisited” for instance in this passage:

“Just as we were gearing up to head home, the two wrens took off in flight. Their warbles echoed against the stark silence, their brown feathers fluttered bright against the snow, but it was something else that kept me looking at them as we made our way back down the footbridge: the way they were flying side by side, the tips of their wings just touching. It was as if they were holding hands in the air, searching together, trying to find their place in that city on the hill.”

At other times it was Alan Hollinghurst I heard, in the awkwardness of passion felt but unconsummated and in passion messily requited.

I am rarely moved to tears by works of fiction but this brought back to mind so intensely some aspects of my own experiences more than fifty years ago of trying to negotiate and make sense of my feelings for other men and theirs for me. As the author says:

“…but now, as an adult, I was starting to understand that life was a matter of deciding what to keep alive and what to let die. Personal dreams, family ranches, first loves, summer flings—all these things have a life span. As much as I was learning to let go, I was also learning to welcome new knowledge into my life.”

The best compliment one can give to a writer and their work is that one was left wishing for more. I hope it will not be too long before I can read another novel from this gifted writer.

4.5 stars.

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A stunning debut, How We Named the Stars explores first love and first loss in stunning prose that will sit with the reader long after the last page.

This novel contains so much, Daniel is a first generation college student, the only one of Mexican heritage in his classes, on a scholarship he fears losing, far from his family, and is just beginning to explore and understand his sexuality. Questions of identity, belonging, generational grief are all examined and explored with a gentle yet powerful hand by Ordorica - resulting in a breathtaking debut novel from an author who I am sure will write some wonderful things over the course of his career.

My one small criticism would be the dialogue and some interactions between the characters. Daniel seems to walk through his interactions with other characters a little too easily in some instances and the dialogue seems clipped and simple - to the point where the characters all seemed to speak with the same voice. But this could easily be explained by the fact the whole novel is told through Daniel’s recollections (with the exception of excerpts from his uncle’s writings). I’m not sure if this was a stylistic choice, or due to this being a first novel in which the author is still finding his stylistic feet so to speak.

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