Catch a Falling Star

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Author: Meg McKinlay

Publisher: Walker Books

Meg McKinlay is an exceptional writer. Her books are both heart-wrenching and very funny. Her new novel Catch a Falling Star is stunning. I knew I was going to enjoy this book from the first page.

Jeremy’s wearing the bowl and a puffy jacket because it’s the closest he can get to a spacesuit. And he needs a spacesuit because he’s going to be an astronaut when he grows up, just like Damien last week, and Trevor the time before. I don’t know what the odds are of three kids from the same class in a tiny little town on the south coast of nowhere, Western Australia, becoming astronauts, but it seems like they’d be…astronomical.

Yes, this book is poignant and heartfelt, but it is also hilarious. I work in an all-boys school (mainly in the junior school) and emotionally moving won’t it cut it with the boys. I need to be able to sell these books, so humour is good. Grab them with humour and space and then let them discover a story which will give them so much more.

Catch a Falling Star is set in a small town in Western Australia, in the year of  1979. As I was reading this novel, I thought it would be a wonderful book to read aloud to students. To discuss what life was like in 1979 for children their age. No mobile phones, not a lot of technology, no Internet.

It is 1979 and Skylab, the U.S. space station is starting to break up and will re-enter the earth’s atmosphere. NASA can’t control Skylab and so no-one, including NASA, have any idea where the pieces of Skylab will land. They do know that Western Australia is on its flight path. I loved this part of the book because it is the 1970s and there’s no such thing as social media or a twenty-four-hour news cycle, so the public is relying on the nightly news report and their daily newspapers to give them their information. Imagine. Skylab dominates the news and everyone is talking about it.

Everyone is obsessed with Skylab and none more so than Frankie Avery and her younger brother, Newt. Frankie and Newt’s father died several years earlier in a plane. It too fell out of the sky. Their father loved space. Frankie spent many hours with her father star-gazing and talking about space. She remembers her father telling her about Skylab and now it is falling to the ground. Skylab brings back many memories for Frankie and she finds it all quite overwhelming, particularly since her mother doesn’t talk about her father anymore and all she does is work long hours at the hospital.

Newt was too young to remember their father, but like their father, he is fascinated by space. He is a curious, incredibly smart eight-year-old who loves science. Frankie’s mother isn’t home much, so Frankie looks after Newt. She worries about Newt and sometimes forgets to be a twelve-year-old because she is too busy looking after Newt who has no sense of danger and like most eight-year-olds lacks a lot of common sense.

Frankie is dealing with a lot. She is negotiating school, family, friends and grief. The book is beautifully written, but I love the humour that McKinlay provides in the book to lighten the mood at times. Most of this humour comes when Frankie is in class with her teacher. Adults and students will relate to the humour in the classroom.

As Skylab continues to fall to the ground, Frankie feels her life starting to spiral. The falling of Skylab triggers Frankie and everything comes to an emotional head as Skylab enters the earth.

Catch a Falling Star is a tender, hopeful, funny, poignant and beautifully written book.

I thought I would end with my favourite quote from the book, for all the readers out there!! Throughout the story, Frankie is reading the Australian classic Storm Boy by Colin Thiele. A book that parallels Catch a Falling Star in that they are both about growing up and handling grief at a young age.

“What’s it about?” She gestures at the cover. “A pelican.”

I  hesitate. People are always asking that about books: “What’s it about? It sounds like a simple question, but it isn’t. You could take all day to answer it if you really wanted to. And if the person asking the question really wanted to hear it.

“Yeah,” I say finally. “It’s about a pelican.”

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Normal People

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I wanted to love this book and that is always a recipe for disaster, but sometimes that much-hyped book lives up to all expectations and I was hoping that this book would do just that. “Salinger for the Snapchat generation: critics unite to praise 27-year-old novelist” was the headline for one review I read. I guess I should have been wary from the get-go – I don’t like Salinger and I am not from the Snapchat generation.

I didn’t dislike the book. I liked Normal People, but I didn’t love it. I can’t say that I enjoyed it because it isn’t a book that you ‘enjoy’.

In a nutshell, the story is of a relationship between two people, Connell and Marianne. We are introduced to the two characters while they are in high school and we follow their lives through to adulthood.

In high school, Marianne is wealthy, beautiful, skinny, smart but a social outcast. Connell is poor, gorgeous, athletic, intelligent and popular. The two are drawn together and start an illicit affair. Connell is terrified that people will find out that the two are sleeping together and makes Marianne swear that she won’t tell anyone. Marianne adores Connell and keeps his secret. The reason why she does this becomes apparent as the book progresses.

The two go off to university and the tables are turned. Marianne is suddenly popular and sought after and Connell, due to his shyness, finds it hard to make friends. The two find themselves drawn together once again and begin a relationship. Though Connell adores and loves Marianne, there always feels like an imbalance of power. It would appear that Marianne needs Connell more than he needs her. Of course, this is quite a simplistic view and the relationship is much more than this. Over the years the two find themselves in relationships with other people. Marianne finds she has a masochistic streak and this takes her into some relationships that are far from healthy. From the outside, Connell appears to have a healthy relationship with his dull girlfriend but has he chosen the safe route to make himself believe he is happy.

The book focuses a lot on Marianne and that she feels she isn’t worthy to be loved by another person. Rooney allows the reader to believe that this is because she comes from an abusive, cold and unloving family. Personally, I felt Connell had a lot to answer for when it came to Marianne’s insecurities. Marianne’s first relationship was with Connell where she was sworn to secrecy because Connell was embarrassed and ashamed that he was sleeping with Marianne. I was also offended when later in the book Connell was “disappointed” in Marianne and use the word, “spinelessness” to describe her when Connell was the epitome of “spinelessness” as far as I was concerned.

Rooney touches on bullying in her book. I thought she made some excellent insights and her writing in certain parts of the book where bullying was addressed was thoughtful and beautiful.

You learn nothing very profound about yourself simply by being bullied, but by bullying someone else, you learn something you can never forget.

As the book progressed, I found myself disliking the two main characters. I couldn’t understand why they were so drawn to each other. I probably disliked Connell more than Marianne. In lots of ways, I understood Marianne’s pain and her intense dislike of herself. I wish she could have learnt to like herself without Connell. I found Connell entirely selfish and indulgent. He said the right things and did the right things, but it never seems to come from a genuine place. I think he was more screwed up than Marianne and that she deserved way better. I never bought into the misunderstood, insecure, anxiety-ridden writer that Rooney made out that Connell was.

Normal People is a well-written book. The dialogue between the characters is thoughtful and beautifully written. I may have missed the whole premise of the book, but it all felt a little too trite for me, and even Rooney’s exceptional writing couldn’t save it (for me). I do think that Rooney is a smart and insightful writer and I did take a lot away from reading this book – just not what everyone else did. I do think she knows how to write emotion and I felt Marianne’s pain intensely. I think we have all been in that dark place where we have felt that we don’t deserve love.

I did find that once I started this novel, it was compelling reading, but I don’t think I was mesmerised by the Connell and Marianne love story.