Review Blog

Apr 15 2020

The January stars by Kate Constable

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Allen and Unwin, 2020. ISBN: 9781760525026. 288pp.
(Age: 10+) Highly recommended. When twelve year old Clancy and sister, fourteen year old Tash visit their grandfather in his nursing home, where he has been confined after suffering a stroke, a series of incidents result in their kidnapping him, taking a taxi to his now deserted home and then moving on when the real estate agent calls the police. Tash is more reluctant, but Clancy sees only an old man unable to communicate, being used by their aunt Polly, and so decides to take things in hand. Their grandmother died some little while ago and it is her interest in astronomy that intrigues Clancy, saddened that she was not able to discuss this with her gran. But she feels her presence guiding the two in their efforts to help their grandfather, looking to the stars for help.
The opening chapter in this glorious novel reveals a tight knit family going through stressful times, exposing the characters of each within a few pages. Conversations brim with meaning, hidden depths and family history, with gaps to be filled in by the reader ensuring they will keep reading. Readers will recognise some of the discussion and events happening in their own homes, making it immediate and all the more credible.
Once at their grandfather's house, the girls must disappear, aware that the police are on their tails. Clancy follows Nan's lead, and they eventually find themselves in a magical bookshop, a place that looks like it has not opened for years. Here the owner greets grandfather as an old friend and they stay the night unburdening their story. Next day they go off in search of their aunt, Bee, whose address in Docklands proves a dead end, but the tenant gives them her address in the country. So they set off for Quoll Creek.
Here they encounter difficulties when their aunt is found, a resident at an ashram, and they must move on again. The girls seek out another aunt, and deciding that Pa wants to return to his own home, head there. The whole family ends up at the original family home at Rosella, where all the tensions boil over.
Through their journey the girls learn to rely on their own resourcefulness, overcome their difficulties with each other and blossom as responsible young women.
And for the middle school readers, the links to the stars, infused with indigenous stories of the Milky Way and dark Emu, form a guiding light for Clancy.
I just love stories set in a defined space. The sights and sounds of Melbourne provide a wonderful backdrop through references to Docklands, Rosella, the wonderful train system, laneways, Southern Cross and murals. The girls have taken on a mammoth task, but one with which many readers will sympathise, seeing their own families struggling to do their best by their aged parents. Teacher's tips are available. Themes: Stars, Family, Nursing homes, Aged, Kidnapping.
Fran Knight

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