No cap, I have the worst singing voice in the world. Birds have dropped dead out of the sky upon hearing it. My children used to fall fast asleep just to stop any lullaby I started. Glassware has broken from the notes I’ve hit—granted people threw that glassware at me, but the fact stands: I have a beyond terrible singing voice.


And to make matters worse, I went to the college that had the most respected vocal performance program in the state. You couldn’t swing a stick without hitting someone who could sing really, really well.


One of my friends went on to win the NATS (The National Association of Teachers of Singing) graduate and overall divisions before going on to sing opera in New York.


Back then, I used to tease that I would sell my soul to the devil to be able to sing a solo in church.


And who doesn’t love a good ol’ Faustian deal, donuts, and a space alien scenario that kind of reminds you of one of the 1980s most unappreciated movies—The Last Startfighter—that’s rhetorical, no need to answer.


All of that pretty much sums up the plot of Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki.


Shizuka Satomi is a renowned violin teacher in search of her next student. Her last six students went on to great success and notoriety as violinists before their careers ended tragically and, unfortunately, with their souls condemned to hell because Shizuka Satomi isn’t known as the Queen of Hell for nothing. In order to save her own soul from damnation, Shizuka must provide the souls of seven others willing to trade their souls for success.


Shizuka thinks she has found the perfect candidate, but for reasons unknown to her, passes on the student, leaving her to begin the search process again with time on her own soul passing quickly. But when Shizuka finds herself in quick need of a restroom, she happens upon Starrgate Donut, which is where everything changes.


Somehow, Shizuka managed to take her tray to a clean table. She needed to clear her head. This was no time for infatuation. It was already February. She had a student to find, a demon to feed, her soul to save.


          Then Shizuka bit into the soft sticky Alaska Donut.” (28)


Shizuka’s infatuation—the donut lady. But the donut lady is so much more. Starrgate Donut is so much more because the donut lady is Lan Tran, “Starship Captain, former Imperial Scientist, and Earth’s first harbinger of the Endplague.” (190) Also, under her human disguise, she’s purple.


There is so much to enjoy and absorb from this book, whether it’s flashbacks to childhood music lessons, an alien starship captain’s appreciation for Olive Garden, or seeing someone dubbed the Queen of Hell as sympathetic, Light from Uncommon Stars will take you from the heavens to hell. 


And probably my favorite moment of the book comes when Shizuka finds her student while feeding bits of donut to ducks in the park. She happens upon Katrina Nguyen, a transgender runaway with a violin. When Shizuka asks Katrina to play, she expects to hear Bach or Mozart, but that’s not what she gets.


“Of all the music she might have imagined, Shizuka did not expect the girl to pull out Schradieck.


Schradieck? As in The School of Violin Technics. These were not musical compositions, but musical exercises. They were basic and beneficial, but basic and beneficial in the way cod liver oil was, or a measles vaccine, or a regular trip to the dentist.


How many countless students had given up violin because of Schradieck?”


I texted this passage to a friend who is the principal second violinist of The San Antonio Symphony. Her response: LOL that’s on point.


Also, there’s donuts.


Download the accompanying activity and discussion questions below!