Stargazing for beginners by Jenny McLachlan

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Bloomsbury, 2017. ISBN 9781408879757
(Age: 12+) Highly recommended, Stars, Family, Competition, Space, Responsibility. The first line of her speech says it all. 'Space to me is about being free'.
When Meg goes to school she can leave her messy life behind: her mother who still lives like she is a teenager, her grandfather who is forgetful and as a result, sometimes dangerous, and the council flat she lives in with mum and her eighteen month old sister, Elsa. She is practising her speech for the competition which will win her a seat at Mission Control at NASA for the launch of the next space ship, but with no time to rehearse and a major hurdle to overcome, it does not look likely that she will win. She is obsessed with space, so much so that she identifies a football drawn on Ed's book to be an asteroid, one coming close to earth in the next few weeks. Without trying, she makes her group laugh uproariously at her geeky slip and again eats her lunch by the wall near the girls' toilets, alone. She has a strong aversion to speaking out loud, and giving a speech in front of an audience fills her with dread.
But then Mum goes to Myanmar. Ostensibly taking a friend to the airport, she rings Meg from the plane, leaving the girl with the responsibility of her young daughter, telling her to go and live with her grandfather. Meg is overawed. Her grandfather needs looking after and cannot possibly look after them. How can she look after the toddler, go to school, rehearse for the competition speech, navigate the daily slights at school, avoid the authorities who may take the baby away and deal with her eccentric grandfather.
This funny look at one girl's life made me applaud her tenacity, daring and strength. With her mother away she needs to draw on all her reserves to help them cope with the reality of being alone. And she finds that she develops more love for her sibling, a bond she was unable to share with her mother.
This is a wonderful story, beautifully written and full of underlying humour. The insights into family and peer relationships captivated me from the start and the continuous reference to space and its part in her life, was wholly engrossing.
Fran Knight