Title: We See the Stars
Author: Kate van Hooft
Genre: Literary Fiction
Number of Pages: 336
WARNING: THIS BOOK REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!
Sheesh, this book had so much potential. I wanted so much to like it and it honestly hurts me a little bit to give it a negative review. But there are major problems.
Eleven-year-old Simon is a silent, unhappy boy who is bullied at school. His elective mutism is alarming to the people who care about him but he proves he’s willing to talk upon occasion, though he’s so quiet you could easily miss it. Simon gets a new teacher, Ms. Hilcombe, who is kind and supportive of his differences. He also befriends a prickly girl named Cassie with a deformed hand.
When Ms. Hilcombe disappears, Simon believes he knows where she went. He and Cassie do some investigating but Simon keeps falling back into his withdrawn, imaginary inner world when things get too hard to deal with. It’s probable that Simon is on ‘the spectrum’ and getting to see this author’s depiction of neurodiversity was what got me interested enough to order the book.
However, the writing style was a little bit forced and I often found myself irritated by Simon’s verbal affectations. He keeps on talking about having a bird in his tummy when he feels anxious or even having bees crawling all over honeycomb inside his body. It happens often enough to become irksome and it feels like the author is trying a little too hard to write this ‘unique’ character.
There are also a ton of unanswered questions and parts of the book that just seem to lack context. Then you get to the part where you find out Simon accidently lashed out at his pregnant mother and caused her to miscarry. It’s unclear whether she’s traumatized or even comatose from this event and she just lies in bed all the time.
Maybe she even died and Simon is imagining her continued presence in the house? Which begs the obvious question; why isn’t Simon institutionalized? Accidently or not, he killed an unborn baby and his family goes around acting like nothing happened. He’s in a mainstream class and his dad refuses to get him any counseling or anything that might actually help.
It just doesn’t make sense. The sloppy use of the ‘unreliable narrator’ technique leaves the reader with more questions than answers and feels contrived. The ending was sad and unexpected but wasn’t enough to save the book from being a bit of a missed opportunity.
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