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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Louisiana’s Way Home

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Author: Kate DiCamillo

Publisher: Walker Books

I loved this book! I fell in love with the characters. I devoured it and I wanted more. I was utterly enthralled by Kate DiCamillo’ beautiful writing. I wanted Louisana’s story to go on and on and I was disappointed when the book finished.

In a compelling first-person voice, twelve-year-old Louisana relates the story of her journey to Richford, Georgia. The year is 1977, and this adds to the charm of the story. Louisana tells her story with great detail and always includes her thoughts and opinions – which are heartfelt and at times hilarious.

Louisana’s impulsive, erratic grandmother awakens her one night because the day of reckoning has arrived, insisting that they must leave town immediately. Louisana and her grandmother travel through Florida and stop in Richford, Georgia, at the Good Night Sleep Tight motel. The trip from Florida to Georgia is far from uneventful, and ending up at the Good Night Sleep Tight motel is due to circumstances from their action-packed journey.

Lousiana finds out many truths while in Richford, Georgia that throw her into great turmoil. All that she has believed to be true isn’t and Louisana feels alone, shattered and unanchored.

The characters in this book are delightful and funny. I was captured by this small town and the characters that live within the town. In particular, DiCamillo builds a resilient and compassionate character in Louisana, and her observations of the people around her are hilariously both down-to-earth and whimsical.  Louisana’s comments give us so much more than if DiCamillo had described the so-called character trait.

I was starting to see what kind of person he was. He was the kind of person who, if you asked him for one of something, gave you two instead.

I did not understand how someone could play the organ so poorly, just as I did not understand how someone could have a seemingly lifetime supply of chocolate caramels and not share them.

“OK,’ I said. “And maybe as an extra-special surprise for me, you will actually remove the curlers from your hair.”

Much of what happens to Louisana is heartbreaking, but Louisana always makes you smile and her sharp observations of the world make you laugh through the tears.

Louisana’s Way Home is a beautifully written book. It also a beautifully presented book and would sit proudly on many bookshelves. The characters are charming and the language so exquisitely crafted. A special book that deserves to sit on many gorgeous bookshelves.

Small Spaces

Author: Sarah Epstein

Publisher: Walker Books

As a ten-year-old child, Tash Carmody witnessed the kidnapping of six-year-old Mallory Fisher or did she? When Tash tells the police and her family that she believes Mallory was taken by Sparrow – her imaginary friend, she loses all credibility but is Sparrow imaginary or real?

Sarah Epstein does a brilliant job of having the reader wondering if Sparrow is real or a figment of Tash’s imagination throughout the whole book.

Tash is slowly getting on with her life after years of therapy. She is learning to control the panic attacks and her fear of small spaces, but just as Tash feels that she has a grip on life, the Fisher family arrive back in town with a traumatised and mute Mallory who remembers little of her kidnapping. Tash’s world becomes consumed again by her imaginary friend Sparrow. But once again is he real or a figment of her imagination? Is Sparrow a manifestation of her childhood fears or is he an actual person capable of despicable acts? Will Tash figure it out or will she lose her grip on reality?

It wasn’t the mystery that I felt was compelling about this book but the sub-stories within the book. Obviously, Tash has gone through something traumatic, but instead, she is accused of attention seeking – by her parents and her therapist.

Tash is given a cookie cutter diagnosis by her therapist and throughout the following years the therapist continues to fail Tash and understand what happened to her or what Tash actually needs to recover and move on with her life. Her parents brush her off because they are busy with a newborn and they assume she is acting out for attention and her relationship with her parents is never the same over the years. It is probably this part of the book that I found the most distressing. At times it feels like Tash’s parents don’t even like her, let alone trust or believe in her.

Small Spaces is a good read. I do think the mystery reveal falls a little flat and most readers will come to realise what is happening far before the actual reveal (mainly if they are paying attention) in the book. Though despite these shortcomings Small Spaces is an interesting and compelling read.

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