Book Reviews

Review: Hold Back the Stars by Katie Khan

What starts off as a story about two astronauts stranded in space and reminiscing, ends up being an emotional, surprising, and incredibly deep book on individualism, love, and free will.


As Max and Carys are stranded in space with only 90 minutes of oxygen, naturally now is the time to reflect on their life: the beliefs they held on to, the chances they never took, and the decisions they regretted. Drifting above their utopian Earth, the two make amends and dwell in memories as they remember the love between them, a love that is outlawed on Earth. The clock ticks down, and they’re faced with an impossible dilemma: only one can survive, but who will take it?


While reading this book, I felt that it starts off like The Martian, if there were two of them, and ends more like Interstellar. At first we’re all survival mode, and while we see more of their memories together, the real task at hand is problem solving. But as the air dwindles down, Max and Carys become more introspective, vulnerable, and profound. This is when it switches to Interstellar as we witness their memories of a life full of chances, risks, and love.

The utopian society was fascinating to me. It prioritizes individualism, temporality, and adherence to the rules. Furthermore, the technology of the new age and the concept of rotation, is fascinating (especially the modern Olympic Games). In fear of spoiling the sheer ingenuity, I won’t go on, but I am a huge sucker for utopia/dystopias (did my blog name not give it away?). What made me even happier is that Khan talks about the origin of the word, utopia (and the mention that Max hates the name of the plant rapeseed, me too!)

The Characters

Khan has a fabulous writing sense fluctuating between Max’s humor, Carys’ past, and even Liu’s antics. The characters all serve a purpose, but evolve beyond that, becoming loveable and more than their prescribed role. Max and Carys themselves are so different, yet the dynamic between them is both believable, and heart breaking. Their plight and feelings are universal, which only makes the entire book more emotional. Whether it be our need for company, our inability to break free of our past, or our fears that hold us back, these moments as they stare death in the face, are achingly familiar.

From the very beginning, the suspense about their fate is clear, however, Khan takes our assumptions and throws them soundly out the window. The ending will leave you reeling, careening through the air, but it is so worth it. We are challenged to see more than just two lovers in space, or two people confronted with their possible death. We are shown a complicated world, two lives full of memories and strong opinions, and their history which unravels the mystery of how they even got into space. Additionally, Khan expertly exposes us to little mysteries, the mystery of how they keep crossing paths, or how Max got his job, all to illustrate the nature of fate: how we influence it and how it influences us.

In Conclusion,

I could go on and on about this book, about how it shows us our ‘true colors’ at the end, or about how it puts into perspective our fears and regrets. Ultimately, the dynamic between Max and Carys, as well as their story, makes this book even more enjoyable, but also fulfilling (especially at the end). While you may think this book is all about death, or the potential of death, what ends up occurring is a celebration, a reminiscing, on life. However, it’s even more than that, it’s about who we are in those final moments when we think it’s the end. Who are we behind our family, behind our beliefs, behind our fear, and behind our love?

You can pick it up on Amazon, Goodreads, and visit Khan’s site.

Disclaimer: I received this book in exchange for an honest review from Netgalley.

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