Gus and the starlight by Victoria Carless

cover image

Gus’s mum, Delphine Able has a gift; she can see and talk to dead people. However, her bullying boyfriend Troy has been exploiting this gift, taking money from people keen to communicate with their dead relatives. The whole experience leaves Delphine distressed and anxious so when she bundles the family into the car and blocks the boyfriend’s number, Gus knows they are not going back. Big sister Alice seems to take it all in her stride and little brother Artie is only concerned about leaving his Transformer toy behind, but for nearly 12 year old Gus, that was the 10th house she could recall and she dreads going to yet another school where she won’t fit in, afraid to make friends she will inevitably lose. This time they drive north for four days until, at a service station their mother spots an advertised position at Calvary, a small town surrounded by sugar cane fields. The job is to manage the Starlight Drive-in Cinema, a run-down venue with a caravan for them to live in. They set about cleaning and sprucing up the place which was established in 1956 with an update in the 1980’s and Gus settles in to the local school where the big event will be the coming of 'Rileys Comet', seen in the sky every 70 years. Working on a science project on the comet helps Gus settle in and planning the re-opening of the drive in absorbs the whole family. Gus is to be the projectionist and when the owner’s father, Henry, who is supposed to be dead, helps her out Gus assumes she has the family gift of being able to talk to dead people. In spite of the first opening being far from successful the family settle in to the place and gradually win the support of the community but there are many hurdles to negotiate and unexpected insights to be gained.

This is an appealing story about family and finding a place to belong, the main character bravely faces challenges and takes responsibility for the success of their venture. The first half flowed well but then got more tangled and complicated. There was little character development with a stereotype of a vegan family and the comet story was confused. A quick read with a nice family feel.

Themes: Family, Friendship, Ghosts.

Sue Speck