CKG Review – The Stars at Oktober Bend by Glenda Millard

What the judges say:

“Told in their distinctive and memorable narrative voices this is a wonderfully evocative tale of two damaged young people who find redemption and hope in their love for each other…The lyrical, outstanding writing throughout develops strong characterization and a vivid sense of place, as their tragic stories gradually unfold; building to a dramatic climax that brings each strand of the novel together in an intensely satisfying way.”

The Stars at Oktober Bend | FINAL COVER (23 November 2015)

What we say:

This book is absolutely beautiful. I first read it a few months ago and it is one that has really stuck with me and definitely meets the CKG judging criteria of providing pleasure, “not merely from the surface enjoyment of a good read, but also the deeper subconscious satisfaction of having gone through a vicarious, but at the time of reading, a real experience that is retained afterwards.”

It’s a dual narrative story of fifteen year-old Alice Nightingale, who has difficulty speaking  [she has acquired brain injury as a result of being horrifically attacked when she was twelve] but leaves beautiful poems in public places; and Manny James, a 16 year old former child soldier from Sierra Leone, who is now staying with foster parents near Alice and is trying to adjust to his new life in Australia.

 

 

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, Alice is very creative and intelligent. In her poems her words flow free and unhindered:

say words come

slow and slurred

sound stupid

but heartwords

fly from my pen

Manny finds one of Alice’s poems at the train station and in time the two of them meet and fall in love. But this book is so much more than a simple love story.

Both Alice and Manny are beautifully drawn characters. Both of them are outsiders and, as more of each of their respective histories is revealed, you find yourself really 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. Alice’s relationship with Gram, her ailing grandmother, is another highlight.

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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.

Emma

To read an extract from the stars at oktober bend click on the link below:

Extract for YLG NW

You can listen to Glenda Millard talk about The Stars at Oktober Bend on the CKG shadowing site: http://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/watch.php?id=15

Extract and images courtesy of Old Barn Books and Liz Scott PR

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