Review Blog

Feb 29 2016

Stars at Oktober Bend by Glenda Millard

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Allen and Unwin, 2016. ISBN 9781743315897
(Age: 14+) Highly recommended. Brain damage. Poverty. Child soldiers. Floods. Coming of age. What an unforgettable read! Alice is 15 years old and suffering from brain damage. She cannot express herself out loud but does it through her poetry, pieces of which she leaves about the town. Her brother Joey is very protective of her, and he is the one who still goes to school and who looks after both her and their sick grandmother. Manny is a former boy soldier from Sierre Leone, who runs bare foot at night, trying to forget the people he left behind. When Alice and Manny meet, things begin to change for both of them.
I loved the character of Alice, and found her voice in her poetry very compelling. Although it was slightly difficult to read at first, with its lack of capitals, as a reader it was easy to become immersed in her story, the details of how she received the injury that caused the brain damage gradually emerging over the pages until its exciting denouement at the conclusion of the book. Joey her brother was a stunning character, protective and loving, and Manny's back story about Sierra Leone was heart breaking.
The descriptions of poverty that faced Alice and her family are disturbing, but the reader admires Alice for her artistic ability to make fishing flies for sale and Joey for his sales ability to help the family make ends meet. As Alice lets Manny into her life, love and healing begins for both of them. Joey too begins to let people into his life and share his concerns.
This is a heart wrenching but ultimately uplifting read. It will bring tears to the eyes, but also leaves the reader with a sense of wonder about Alice's courage and determination to express herself. This is a book that would be a very good literature circle or class novel, with many powerful themes, brain damage, art, child soldiers, floods, redemption and poverty, to discuss and think about. Alice's poetry too, could make this a novel that could be an effective read aloud for older students.
Pat Pledger

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