Review: GIRL MADE OF STARS by Ashley Herring Blake
Also by this author: How to Make a Wish
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers on May 15, 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. All opinions are my own.
Ashley Herring Blake is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. She has such a gift for handling very difficult topics with sensitivity and grace. I didn’t think she could top How to Make a Wish, which was one of my favorite reads last year, but she has outdone herself with her beautifully written and heartbreaking latest, Girl Made of Stars.
It’s not just a well-crafted story either. Girl Made of Stars is also an incredibly relevant and timely story, hitting the shelves in the midst of the #MeToo movement on social media that is calling out sexual predators and finally holding them accountable for their actions.
Girl Made of Stars follows the journey of Mara, high school student and founder of the feminist school publication, Empower. Mara has very strong convictions about giving a voice to those who wouldn’t normally have one, but when she finds herself caught in the middle of an impossible situation, her whole belief system is turned on its head and she doesn’t know what to do.
Her twin brother Owen is accused of rape by his girlfriend, Hannah, who also happens to be one of Mara’s best friends. Mara doesn’t want to believe that her beloved brother could be capable of such a heinous act, but Mara also doesn’t believe that Hannah would lie about such a thing so she just feels so lost and confused.
It also doesn’t help Mara’s state of mind that her own personal life feels like such a mess. She and Charlie, her best friend since they were kids, tried to take their relationship in a romantic direction and things didn’t go well. Now everything is awkward between them and Mara doesn’t know what to do about that either.
Girl Made of Stars follows Mara as she tries to make sense of all of the things that are happening in her life and as she tries to confront demons from her own past that are holding her back.
This is one of those books where I feel like I’m going to ramble and ramble and never quite do justice to just what a gorgeous and well-crafted story it really is.
One of the standout moments of the book is how the author sets the stage. The book opens with Mara and her twin brother Owen lying outside on a flat roof, gazing up at the stars, and reciting a story they made up when they were kids about some of the constellations. It’s this perfect portrait of innocence and because it seems so innocent and pure, it’s all the more shocking and hard to believe that just a few pages later, Mara’s brother will be accused of rape. Those two images are just so jarring and hard to reconcile.
I also loved that the story comes to us from Mara’s perspective. That way we don’t actually see the rape but instead, we learn of it the same way Mara does and have to make up our minds using the same evidence Mara does.
Speaking of Mara, I thought she was just such a loveable main character. I love that she founded a feminist publication and used it to stand up for what she believed in. I also spent those early pages ooh’ing and ahh’ing about how sweet her relationship with her sibling was so I became super invested in her once I read what her brother was being accused of because I knew it would tear her up inside. Mara has to face some tough facts in this story and I was right there with her every step of the way as she begins to watch her brother more closely at school and with his friends. She begins to see the possibility that just because he’s her brother and she loves him more than life, there is still the possibility that he could be guilty of what he’s accused of doing.
And then to complicate what Mara is feeling even further, there’s Hannah to consider. Hannah is precious and I loved her just as much as I loved Mara. Hannah is this kind, free-spirited, hippie type and she is absolutely adorable. That and she’s also head over heels in love with Owen. When we first meet them at a party, it’s almost nauseating how cute they are with each other. Her obvious love for Owen makes it all the more shocking that she later accuses him of forcing himself on her. At the same time, though, it lends that much more credibility to her story. If she loves him so much, what would be her motivation to accuse him of something so awful? It becomes so easy to see why Mara is so lost and confused and it made me all the more sympathetic to her as she tries to decide where her loyalties should lie.
In addition to the story of Hannah and Owen, which dominates much of the book, I also really liked the Mara/Charlie storyline that threaded its way through the narrative. I loved Charlie right away. Charlie is gender queer and is still trying to figure out exactly what that means, but uses music as a way to work through it. I kind of wanted to knock Mara upside the head for nearly messing up her relationship with Charlie and really wanted her to figure things out so that she could have at least one good thing happening in her life.
Have Your Tissues Handy. This is a book where I felt so invested in all of the characters that I ended up in tears several times while I was reading. I shed tears for Hannah, not just because of what happened to her but also because of how she was treated by Owen’s friends and others when she returned to school. Blake effectively exposes the ugliness and unfairness of victim blaming and Hannah’s experience serves as a stark and heartbreaking reminder of why so few rape victims come forward and report the crimes.
I didn’t just cry for Hannah though. I also cried for Mara as well. I cried for the impossible situation that she finds herself in, torn between her best friend and her brother. Not only is Mara’s whole world torn apart because she’s caught in the middle, but the whole experience serves as a trigger for Mara, reminding her of a traumatic event from her own past that has haunted her for years.
And lastly, I shed tears for the relationship between Mara and her brother. Bottom line, whether Owen is innocent or guilty, their relationship is forever changed. Those twins who would lie outside, look up at the stars, and make up stories about them are no more. The innocence is lost and there’s no way to get it back. Will they ever be close again? Where do they go from here? It’s heartbreaking to see that Mara could lose the person she has been closest to all her life.
I love when a book is so good that I have to leave this section blank.
I’ve been somewhat stingy with 5 star ratings this year, but I say without hesitation, that Girl Made of Stars is a 5-star read all the way. It’s a heart-wrenching read that tackles difficult subjects with sensitivity and understanding. I guarantee it will move you.
“I need Owen to explain this. Because yes, I do know that Owen would never do that, but I also know Hannah would never lie about something like that.”
Mara and Owen are about as close as twins can get. So when Mara’s friend Hannah accuses Owen of rape, Mara doesn’t know what to think. Can the brother she loves really be guilty of such a violent crime? Torn between the family she loves and her own sense of right and wrong, Mara is feeling lost, and it doesn’t help that things have been strained with her ex and best friend since childhood, Charlie.
As Mara, Hannah, and Charlie navigate this new terrain, Mara must face a trauma from her own past and decide where Charlie fits in her future. With sensitivity and openness, this timely novel confronts the difficult questions surrounding consent, victim blaming, and sexual assault.