BOOK CLUB – The Promise of Stardust by Priscille Sibley

Welcome to BOOK CLUB, a joint venture between me and Jen from Devourer of Books.  Today we are discussing [[[The Promise of Stardust by Priscille Sibley]]] which is being  published by William Morrow Paperbacks.

 The Promise of Stardust by Priscille Sibley

From the Publisher:

Matt Beaulieu was two years old the first time he held Elle McClure in his arms, seventeen when he first kissed her under a sky filled with shooting stars, and thirty-three when they wed. Now in their late thirties, the deeply devoted couple has everything—except the baby they’ve always wanted.

When a tragic accident leaves Elle brain-dead, Matt is devastated. Though he cannot bear losing her, he knows his wife, a thoughtful and adventurous scientist, feared only one thing—a slow death. Just before Matt agrees to remove Elle from life support, the doctors discover that she is pregnant. Now what was once a clear-cut decision becomes an impossible choice. Matt knows how much this child would have meant to Elle. While there is no certainty her body can sustain the pregnancy, he is sure Elle would want the baby to have a chance. Linney, Matt’s mother, believes her son is blind with denial. She loves Elle, too, and insists that Elle would never want to be kept alive by artificial means, no matter what the situation.

Divided by the love they share, driven by principle, Matt and Linney fight for what each believes is right, and the result is a disagreement that escalates into a controversial legal battle, ultimately going beyond one family and one single life.

If you plan on participating in today’s BOOK CLUB, please consider subscribing to comments at the bottom of the page, and check back throughout the day as more questions are added to the post.

Let’s go!

I am going to go light on the questions initially because I am really curious to see what arises naturally out of the discussion.

  • What were your general impressions of the book, and how did your thoughts and opinions evolve as the story unfolded?
  • The Promise of Stardust examines the idea of responsibility for loved ones, and several people step up to have a say in what Elle would have wanted (Matt, his mother, Elle’s father and brothers, her ex-boyfriend, both their colleagues), who do you think had the right to speak for her?
  • Ellie and Matt grew up intertwined with each other as their families were neighbors and very close. Linney is like a mother to Ellie. How did you feel about the role she played in the court case with Matt? Were her actions justified? Did you feel she have more of a responsibility to her son? In what ways did she support him?
  • How would you have decided this case?
  • We get to know who Elle was through other people, but we do have her direct voice in the journals. What did you think about Elle and how she chose to communicate her directives? Why didn’t she leave any clear information for Matt?

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 BOOK CLUB   Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung

12 copies of The Promise of Stardust were provided by William Morrow Paperbacks in order to facilitate this discussion. Thank you so much!


  1. Overall, I thought this book was just okay. Sibley’s writing is good, but the storyline was lacking a little–there was too much repetition, I think. It could have been cut down without compromising the story at all.

    I went from being really angry with Matt to being sympathetic and accepting his decision. After all, as long as his decision doesn’t affect me personally, it’s none of my business what decisions he makes about his wife. I understood why he made those decisions, and thankfully it turned out well in the end. It’s not a decision I would have personally made in his place, but I get it. I DID end up being super irritated with his lawyer, though, because he wanted ALL THE LAWS changed so that Matt’s decision about his wife would affect women throughout the country. No, sir. Not on my watch. By the end of the book, I came to an acceptance (of a sort) with everything…except Matt’s lawyer.

    I do think that both Matt and his mother had an equal responsibility to speak for Elle in this case, since Elle had given Linney that power through her living will (or whatever its technical name ended up being–I don’t have the book right in front of me). I think it’s terrible that they ended up having to go to court to sort it out, but I’m glad they didn’t hate each other in the end. I do feel that Linney’s actions were justified–that was a legal document, and to dismiss it out of hand (because it went against her son’s wishes) would have been the wrong thing to do, both legally and morally.

    How would I have decided the case? Depending on the time frame of my decision, I would have decided in Linney’s favor. I personally think Elle should have been taken off life support in the very beginning, pregnancy or not. I have experience with the brain-dead-family-member-on-life-support half of this story, so that part touched home. I won’t go into details, but it wasn’t a good time. Again, though, what Matt decided was nobody else’s business but who it affected, so as long as his decision didn’t lead to the changing of a bunch of laws that would restrict others in the future, I was fine with whatever he decided. And they lived happily ever after, so yeah. More power to them. (Although I was pretty concerned about Matt constantly wishing to die, even though he was going to be responsible for a baby soon. I was also concerned about his thinking that this baby might “save” him.)

    Personally, I think that using Elle’s body as a human incubator or test tube was pretty awful. I didn’t agree with it at all.

      • I just felt that the same arguments were made over and over and over without anything new being added to the discussion from early on in the book. I think a lot of the arguments/discussions in the book could have been cut out without jeopardizing the flow.

        • Do you mean between family members? I found that very realistic, with everyone holding their beliefs about what she would want so firmly. It could have been abbreviated without losing flow, but I’m not sure it would have seemed as realistic to people’s emotional viewpoints (at least to me).

          • I mean in general. I felt like the same arguments were written out ad nauseum, and that made the book longer than it needed to be. A mention of “they continued to argue without their positions changing” (or something better written, obviously) would have sufficed in more than a couple places.

        • I didn’t think it was that repetitive, but the fact that the kept having emotionally charged conversations made it all that much more realistic to me. I don’t think that anyone was at their best in this story, but so many people though they knew they were right in what they wanted for Elle that they took every opportunity to make that know.

          • I agree with what you’re saying, but the repetition really started to drag the story down for me. It started to feel like it was being used for (unnecessary) filler.

            • I agree with the repetition: “Elle didn’t want to die this way”; “she was terrified of ending up like her mother;” “there’s a difference, she’s not in pain.” were written so many times it started to grate on me! Like jaw-clenching grate. That was my one qualm with the story but it was a big one.

  2. I was really impressed with Sibley’s ability to write about such a charged issue and still manage to keep the questions of right or wrong really open, so that there is room for discussion such as this. I agree with Heather that Linney and Matt had an equal responsibility to speak up for Elle.

    To me, it was pretty clear that Elle’s wish for a child outweighed pretty much everything else. We know that she was at least considering another pregnancy, despite knowing it was incredibly likely to be life-threatening. She may have even known she was pregnant and was trying to convince Matt that it was a good idea. I think had she considered such a situation she would have absolutely provided for an exception in her living will/directive/whatever. What she feared about extraordinary life saving measures was that she might linger in pain like her mother did. Since she wasn’t in pain AND I was convinced that it would have been her choice I supported Matt’s position. Really, the one thing that gave me pause was the precedent (particularly after the last year of the “War on Women”) and Matt’s lawyer. I think it was important that they decided this in court because I do NOT think that life support should be extended automatically because a woman is pregnant.

    • I ended up believing that it’s what Elle would have wanted, too, but at the same time, I still couldn’t get past her body being used that way. I am very conflicted about it still. There is so much we still don’t know about the brain and how it works, and what if she was still trapped in there somewhere? Maybe she would have been fine with that, and maybe not. I don’t know. And if there WAS a part of her still in there somewhere, or if she could still feel any kind of pain at all, the ending would have been HORRIFIC.

    • I supported Matt’s position too from the outset. To me, it was a no-brainer, because of how badly she wanted a child, that Elle should be left on life support. I almost thought all of the arguing was extraneous – annoyingly so. BUT reading Heather’s post I realize other readers may not have felt it was that clear cut (that’s why hearing other people’s opinion is so beneficial.)

  3. I wanted to like the book so much more than I did. Though the plot was interesting and made want to know where the author was taking the story and the characters, I really felt that it was incredibly drawn out — much too long and, as Heather stated above, repetitive, for the point the author ended up making.

    I also felt that we were thrown into the intensity of the tragedy so quickly, that connections with the characters were hard to make. I didn’t really have feelings for Elle, or even for Matt for that matter, because I didn’t know them at all before the accident. I understand that we’re given background through the chapter flashbacks, but I definitely am a character-driven reader. I want and need those connections in order to really care where a character is going and in this case, I didn’t really have those. I didn’t shed a tear through a book filled with sadness and loss (and one that is very similar to a lot of times in my own life), because I did not have those necessary character connections.

    With all of that out of the way, the plot was definitely intriguing (and perfect for a discussion). I appreciated having multiple characters believe they had the right to speak for Elle, though, to answer the question above, I would give the decision to only Matt and his mother. Linney, only because of the conversation and documentation she had. Though everyone else meant well, those were the important voices.

    Personally, my mother was in this situation a few years ago, without an advanced directive. Luckily, I had a conversation with her and therefore knew her wishes and had a very supportive family, who believed I would make the decision my mother wanted. I can’t imagine being involved in a nightmare such as this one and it further proves the importance of having one’s wishes in writing.

    However, if a pregnancy was involved, I honestly don’t know what I would have done. For me, if I were the one in Elle’s position, I would want my husband to save our child if at all possible, letting me go once he or she was born. We believe in life from conception, but even without that, our family situation is just different than many. I sympathize with Elle. We’ve had more than our share of loss when it comes to children and childbirth and if there was a chance for a child, I would want my husband to take it.

    I do not, however, think any decision in that matter would necessarily be the wrong one and I couldn’t possibly blame anyone for wishing to be taken off life support no matter the situation with a pregnancy.

    • Your last paragraph is how I feel, too. I personally wouldn’t want to be kept on life support, but I understand why others would make a different decision. That’s their right, and as long as it doesn’t affect my rights or my beliefs, their decision is their own to make.

    • I agree with you about Elle, I would have maybe gotten to know her other than through other people’s memories. I think that Sibley did that on purpose, though, because then the reader is placed in the same position as the court, the press, people hearing about the case. We don’t have a personal experience of Elle so we must decide whether or not to trust Matt’s memories, and the other stories people tell about Elle. I think it was through his memories of Elle that I really got to know and connect with Matt. Yes, it made me wonder at times if he was really a reliable narrator, but just like the judge I had to decide if he was trustworthy and ultimately I thought he was.

      • That’s an excellent point. I never thought about how we were getting the same information as the rest of the characters. Definitely does make me think about the lack of connection in a different way!

  4. I really enjoyed reading The Promise of Stardust and I though that Sibley did a good job of making the story both balanced and accessible. I was impressed by the number of viewpoints she covered, and the people who in their grief, and because they loved her, wanted to weigh in and make a difference in the outcome of the case. While I didn’t like Matt’s attorney and what he was trying to accomplish, against Matt’s wishes, I really appreciated that perspective as I feel that it’s an issue that an attorney with specific beliefs would go for. The fact that Matt was grieving and needed someone in a pinch made it realistic to me that he would turn to Jake even though their interests weren’t fully aligned.

    While I didn’t want the lawyer to be able to push through with his precedent, I sided with Matt from the beginning. Linney did have the responsibility to come forward with the information she had, but I was a little frustrated with her inability to consider that in the circumstance Elle’s overwhelming desire for a baby would have trumped the directive, and to also consider that she was not in the same circumstances that she so feared, as her mother had been. Her mother suffered a long and lingering illness, and while she was in and out of consciousness, presumable her brain function was intact. Elle suffered catastrophic injuries that rendered her immediate brain dead, and incapable of suffering pain. I thought there was clear evidence that she would have done ANYTHING for a baby. She had almost died having one before, yet that didn’t stop her. I also suspect she may have known about the pregnancy. How about the rest of you?

    • I am 100% with you on Linney, she needed to come forward, but I thought she was seeing things as too black and white. Although I suppose that may have been necessary since Elle gave her a specific legal role.

      • She did have that legal role and responsibility, but in all of her talks with Matt she seemed all…”Elle would not want this no matter what.” Matt seemed a lot more reasonable in at least acknowledging that she didn’t want to be on support. Not saying that he didn’t want what he wanted as well.

        • I did really appreciate that about Matt’s character. I was afraid it would be black and white on both sides, but he definitely saw the gray. This interaction was one of the most realistic to me.

        • I would venture to guess that if Linney’s position had been fleshed out more (I felt like one side of the argument in the book was more heavy-handed than the other), her opinion wouldn’t have been so black & white. I could come up with plenty of reasons from Linney’s standpoint to take Elle off life support from the very beginning, other than “I have an advance directive.” As Matt’s mother, I would have been worried about more than keeping my side of the legal and moral bargain. If this were real life, I’d be willing to bet there was more going on in Linney’s mind that we were being made privy to.

          • I thought it was pretty even-handed, even Matt at times considered that his mother might be right. That’s the limitation of having the book told from Matt’s perspective, we would have needed multiple POVs to get into Linney’s head more, and I think that would have detracted from the book in this case, since Matt was the one with rich memories about Elle.

        • And by the end, I think Matt had proven that he wasn’t making some split decision–that he’d thought it through and was ready to take on the responsibility. He did as much as he could to prove he was doing everything in Elle’s best interest. Linney accepted that and changed her mind because of it.

          Matt irritated me in the beginning because his decisions seemed very immature and selfish. Maybe that’s what Linney was seeing, too.

          • I’m curious about that comment, Heather. In what ways did he seem selfish and immature. I saw grieving and wanting to save the baby, but once his mother came forward with her directive and the issue had to go to court, I can understand him wanting some distance.

            • He said more than once that he wanted to keep a little piece of Elle–it seemed like he wanted to save what would become a baby just for that reason. He consistently thought about killing himself because he just couldn’t live without her…but wanted to save a baby at the same time? He thought the baby might save HIM. That’s a pretty tall order for an infant–what if it didn’t change the way he felt about dying? Doesn’t sound like someone who could be responsible enough to take care of another human.

              It wasn’t until much later in the story that he actually began to even THINK about what having a baby and raising it on his own might mean, and coming to terms with it.

              Once he started to level out and actually think about what it all meant on real terms instead of abstract ones, then I began to accept his decision. If I were his mother, I would have recognized all of that in him.

    • You suspect that Elle knew about the pregnancy, or Linney? Elle definitely knew about it. I don’t think Linney did.

      • I strongly suspect that Elle did, but I can’t say for definite. I didn’t find quite enough in the text to support my hunch. I think she might have started taking steps in that direction and even might have eventually tried to convince Matt after the fact.

  5. zibilee

    Oh gosh, I want to read this one so badly, but it sounds so extremely sad, and I can’t do sad at the moment. After all you guys have said though, it’s going on the list.

  6. I’m going to bookmark this discussion for when I’ve read the book. And I will most definitely be reading this one.

  7. Ah you guys, I feel like a jerk but I could not finish this book 🙁 It was too schmaltzy for me. I’m sorry.

    • Here is where my giant book snobbish ways come out :/ I’m not a fan of Nicholas Sparks and that is how this read to me. I gave it a go a few times but I kept rolling my eyes and setting it back down. 🙁

      This book has great ratings and so many people enjoyed it. That makes me wonder what I missed.

  8. I enjoyed the book for the most part. I found it very Jodi Picoult-esque – the legal drama, the moral dilemma, the love story and multiple view points. In the Q and A at the end, Sibley does name Picoult as an influence – though she seems to be more than an influence – she copied her structure exactly!

    My biggest problem with the book was, as I mentioned above, – I think the author ran out of steam argument-wise. The same back-and-forth is repeated multiple times with nothing new coming to the fore. It was also fairly obvious to me what Elle would’ve wanted – but maybe that’s because as a reader I had the advantage of Matt’s viewpoint and being privy to all of those flashbacks. It was clear to ME but perhaps it wasn’t clear to Linney/Christopher because they didn’t go my readerly journey ala Sibley.

    I was a little surprised that Linney would prize her role in Elle’s life so highly that she’d go to court against her own son. That didn’t seem very realistic to me. I think the two of them could’ve gone to dinner together and hashed it out – there was no need for hundreds of pages of court battle.

    The whole living will/advanced directive thing was confusing to me. Was anyone else confused by this? Did Elle have a definitive document? Did she not? Did she revoke the one she originally had? Was there simply no stipulation were a pregnancy to be involved?

    I think Matt did right in considering the human side of this equation – what he knew Elle’s feelings to be instinctually, independent of what a document may have said. I was glad he stayed strong and fought for his position because it was so clear to me that she fiercely wanted a child. So much so that anyone else’s opinion was rendered moot. Did anyone else feel the case was this obvious?

    I know that Sibley meant to inject the issue with shades of gray – I just didn’t pick up on them. Maybe there was some other way she could’ve portrayed the story/characters so that things were more ambiguous. But because Elle wasn’t in lingering torment the way her mother had been and because Elle wanted a child so badly it was beyond reason, I really felt it would’ve been criminal to do anything but save the baby.

    Thank you again for my copy! I’m sorry I’m a bit late to the discussion. I just gave birth a few weeks ago and it’s been difficult to read at my customary rate. Plus I put this one off for awhile because the premise and my life circumstance were too intimately connected while the baby was still inside me!

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