The Stars at Oktober Bend

Glenda Millard. Candlewick, $16.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-7636-9272-8
Millard’s quiet, piercing novel, told in two voices, is full of brokenness—broken people, broken families—but also love. The predominant voice is 15-year-old Alice’s—in an arrested state of “twelveness,” having been brutally assaulted at that age and left with an acquired brain injury. Alice lives with her ailing grandmother; protective 14-year-old brother, Joey; and Bear the dog; the love among them all is fierce. The other voice belongs to 16-year-old Manny, a brutalized refugee from Sierra Leone, who has been taken in by a local couple. Alice makes beautiful fishing lures and writes anonymous poems, which she scatters about town, hoping a kindred spirit will find them. Manny is that kindred spirit, and, in spite of ugly opposition from some in the community, the two come together. Alice’s chapters are presented in all lower-case letters, and though this device is initially off-putting, it slowly draws readers into the singularity of her struggling yet strikingly poetic mind. Manny’s hair, for example, is “row-on-row of tight french knots,” and Alice’s grandmother “took my face in her hands and my heart by surprise.” The lyrical narrative’s unhurried pace demands careful attention as it builds to a dramatic climax and bittersweet ending. Ages 12–up. (May)
Reviewed on: 03/26/2018
Release date: 05/08/2018
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