Alice Nightingale writes about how it is to have perfect thoughts that come out in slow, slurred speech. She imagines herself stepping into clear midair with wings made of words and feathers.
Manny Jones runs at night, trying to escape memories of his past. He sees Alice on the roof of her river-house, looking like a figurehead on a ship sailing through the stars. He has a poem in his pocket and he knows the words by heart. He is sure the girl has written them.
Alice longs to be everything a fifteen-year old girl can be. And when she sees the running boy she is anchored to the earth by her desire to see him again.
I first heard about this book through the latest YLG e-newsletter and was really excited to win an advance reading copy.
Intrigued by the blurb [above] I took what was for me a very unusual step of reading both the note from the publisher and the list of chapters rather than diving straight in; taking my time trying to glean more clues about what was in store. Something told me that this would be a book to savour. And that is exactly what it is.
The first thing that struck me when reading this book was that when Alice is narrating the story, there are no capital letters. Also, many of the sentences she writes are short, interrupted by full stops in places you might not necessarily expect them. This is really effective in making you hear Alice’s voice rather than just read what she is thinking. The disruption of conventional grammar and syntax directly reflects the disruption of Alice’s ‘faulty electrics’ on her speech.
What quickly becomes apparent though is that, despite her difficulties with expressing her thoughts through talking [she has acquired brain injury as a result of being horrifically attacked when she was 12], Alice is very creative and intelligent. In her poems her words flow free and unhindered:
say words come
slow and slurred
fly from my pen
Alice begins leaving her poems dotted around in public spaces and one of them is picked up by Manny, a 16 year old former child soldier from Sierra Leone, who is now staying with foster parents nearby and trying to adjust to his new life in Australia. Soon Manny and Alice meet and fall in love. But this book is so much more than a simple love story.
Both Alice and Manny, who each narrate parts of the story, are beautifully drawn characters. Both of them are outsiders and, as more of each of their respective histories is revealed, you find yourself rooting for them as they try to forge a new future together:
once upon a time a boy with no yesterdays asked a girl with no tomorrows for something no one else wanted
As well as Alice and Manny’s relationship with each other, a number of other relationships are explored in the book; including changes between Alice and her brother Joey, who has been Alice’s strongest ally and protector in the years since the attack, as they both begin to let other people into their lives.
At some points soulful and searching, at others lyrical and whimsical, Glenda Millard’s writing creates characters that are utterly believable and a story that is incredibly moving and ultimately full of hope about the ways in which love – in all its forms – can make the world a better place.
the stars at oktober bend is a real triumph and I’ll be recommending it to everyone I know.
To read an extract from the stars at oktober bend click on the link below:
Extract and images courtesy of Old Barn Books and Liz Scott PR.