“The day the soldiers came, we cheered. We weren’t supposed to, of course; if Potta had seen us, he would have been furious; but we couldn’t help it. Jenna and I were on our way back from the reed beds, our arms full of plants for use at home, when we saw the dust rising up in the distance.”
For Mini life hasn’t been great for five years, since the Kwana came into power. Women were stopped from working, girls were kicked out of school and made to wear headscarves denouncing their age for the world to see, until they were married. Mini wants nothing more that for things to be fair again, to go to school and not be flogged in the street for just smiling. The foreign soldiers are her only hope. When her father tells her things will get worse before they get better she doesn’t believe him, and she loses almost everything. Its just her and Jenna fending for themselves and the stars to keep them company.
Looking at the Stars was a ridiculously heartbreaking story and I’m not going to hide the fact that I cried like a baby in various places; I think you’d have to have a heart of stone not to.
The story takes place in a country ravaged by dictatorship, where women are not allowed anything and even the men are put into categories so people can easily tell their rank. The story starts as it means to go on with Mini being punished in the street for simply smiling. I knew then that it wouldn’t be a nice story. Things get from bad to worse when Minis brother runs away to join the underground revolution and her father is killed before the family’s eyes. They make a run for it to a refugee camp and on the way Mini starts telling stories about the stars. She was always told off for telling stories before the war started but soon the sisters discover that there is healing power in her words, even if its only emotional.
The characters are incredible and I loved them all, from loud-mouthed Mini who knows she should be obedient and quiet but struggles too much when there is something on her mind, to Jenna the quiet older sister who develops a sense of belonging and confidence during the book. I adored Lemo and his reaction to Mini’s stories was just so heartwarming in itself that the rest of the events in the book didn’t seem to matter anymore. People Mini and Jenna found in the camp were incredible too and I loved Tiger’s buoyancy and the smiley Maklam. It was hard not to fall in love with these characters.
I read Looking at the Stars one evening after work, that’s right, a whole 360 odd pages in just one evening. I couldn’t put it down and I knew I needed to reach the end to see if the characters have a happy ending, but don’t worry I won’t tell you the outcome. All I will say is that this book needs to be read, its beautiful and sad and is all about finding out who you are and what your purpose is in a time of dire need. The writing, the characters and the story are all so well done that I will honestly be shocked if you don’t like this book. In addition to the story itself there’s some info about civil wars and a Q&A with Jo Cotterill in the back of the book which all young people should read, I didn’t know enough about this kind of thing as a kid and I wish I could change that because ignorance is not good enough.
Looking at the Stars was published on January 30th by Bodley Head. My copy was sent to me from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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