The stars at Oktober Bend – book review

9781743315897

Miss 9 and I had a girls’ afternoon out on the weekend – we do like to leave our boys behind and go to places likes cafes, craft classes, cheese shops and gardens every now and again – and went to a fabulous book launch at Readings. We were there for the launch of  The stars at Oktober Bend by Glenda Millard, her latest young adult book. Miss 9 was there to ask Glenda to sign her first book from the Kingdom of Silk series.

There was cheese, there was champagne, and then the formalities. An Allen and Unwin editor introduced the book, then Mike Shuttleworth from Readings told us why he loved it. I agreed with his point about Glenda offering a different sensibility, a different way of viewing the world.

Glenda’s book is told from the point of view of fifteen-year-old Alice who has an acquired brain injury. She has difficulty voicing her thoughts but writes them beautifully in poems, which she leaves around her small Australian town for strangers to find. Manny finds them. He is a refugee, a child soldier who is trying to establish a new life in Australia.

The book is written entirely in lower case, as we see everything through Alice’s eyes, with small sections of the book in Manny’s voice. Despite my last post about editing your own work and the importance of communicating clearly, the lower case writing draws us immediately into Alice’s way of seeing – might not be correct grammar but it expresses Alice’s voice authentically. A perfect pairing.

I’ve lost count of how many books I’ve read and owned by Glenda. What I love about her writing are the characters and her language. Miss 9 and I told Glenda we would like to live with the Silk family – those characters are so creative, sensitive, brave and thoughtful. And Alice is a beacon for every teenager on the outsider, everyone struggling to express themselves aloud, for every young adult on the brink of falling in love. As for her language, this is one of Alice’s poems:

and when he comes
i will
pass to him
new poems
on fine white pages
sonnets and songs
rows of notes
for words to waltz to
and when he reads them he will
know that i am
more
than twelve
more
than broken much
more
he will take
my hand press my fingers
gently into his
scarred places and i
will know their meaning.

Or this is her voice –

there were fewer silences than there might have been during that first shared meal. hope prised open the tiny doors of my caged heart. twice now manny had seen me fitting. twice he had not turned his back. he had listened to fragments of my stumbling speech and begged me to speak again. his wanting to listen made no difference to my speech. it was no clearer, quicker or more fluent. my words did not sound like birdsong or poetry. but many watched me and waited while i spoke. asked me when he didn’t understand. laughed with us when we laughed at my mumblings and his misunderstandings. that night we had everything we needed – food for our hunger and conversation for our souls.

And lest you think that this book is just about stars and poems, the last section is so gripping you will not be able to put it down. Promise. This is a beautiful book for the young adult in your life – it will encourage them to look at poetry, the evocative language will expand their vocabulary and the story of two outsiders will make their world a little larger.

Glenda told Miss 9 about the next three books she was writing – we both can’t wait to read them.

6 comments

  1. The language is beautiful, Karen. It is interesting, isn’t it, when writing in a character’s voice that is not grammatically correct. Will your reader go along with it? I’ve just finished Hope Farm and that is told through the voices of two people, one who struggled with literacy, and so in the text her words are misspelt and incorrectly punctuated. For the reader, it brings a degree of sympathy for her character. My daughter once wrote a story for school in a migrant’s broken English but was told by her teacher they wouldn’t speak that way. Interesting since she based it off conversations I had told her I had had with a migrant I had been tutoring!

    1. That’s so interesting, Carolyn, that you believe incorrect language allows more empathy for the character from the reader – we do like our flawed characters, don’t we? Makes them a little more vulnerable, too, I guess. Great story about your daughter!

  2. I was just reading another review of this book and it piqued my interest. Shall definitely have to check it out. And I do those one-on-one outings with each of my sons too – so lovely to change things up and enjoy a different dynamic together.

  3. It is such a beautiful book, Nicole. One-on-one time is so important – my kids thrive on so much individual attention.

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