The Stars at Oktober Bend – Glenda Millard – Allen & Unwin – Published 1 February 2016
A powerful, captivating story about Alice, who is reaching out to express herself through her beautiful-broken words, and Manny who is running to escape his past. When they meet they find the tender beginnings of love and healing.
Alice is fifteen, with hair as red as fire and skin as pale as bone, but something inside her is broken. She has acquired brain injury, the result of an assault, and her words come out slow and slurred. But when she writes, heartwords fly from her pen. She writes poems to express the words she can’t say and leaves them in unexpected places around the town.
Manny was once a child soldier. He is sixteen and has lost all his family. He appears to be adapting to his new life in this country, where there is comfort and safety, but at night he runs, barefoot, to escape the memory of his past. When he first sees Alice, she is sitting on the rusty roof of her river-house, looking like a carving on an old-fashioned ship sailing through the stars.
Sometimes a book will just sweep you away with its light and beauty. Stars at Oktober Bend was a dream to read, surprising, ethereal and consuming, yet grounded in the muddy fields and gum trees of country Australia. Where family and love combine in a story of one girl’s bravery.
This book was suggested to me by a colleague, written by an Australian set in Australia, and promised to be both heartfelt and moving, everything that would draw me to a book. And yet I was surprised by how much I fell in love with this book. It started off slowly, until the pieces of this tale started falling into place and I found myself swept up in this delightful story.
Alice lives with her brother Joey and her Gram in a little stilted house on Oktober Bend. She is a poet and a dreamer. She cannot clearly remember what happened to make her forever twelve or her electrics go crazy. Writing is easier than trying to make her words work and it is much better to stay far away from the people in town who judge and point and do not care to understand. Stars at Oktober Bend is the story of Alice learning to feel fifteen, of Alice meeting Manny, the boy who reads her poetry, and of Alice remembering what happened that night under the Stars at Oktober Bend.
It took me a while but I finally connected Glenda Millard as the author of the picture book The Duck and the Darklings, which I loved. As with The Duck and the Darkling, Stars at Oktober Bend has the same poetic writing style, where things are never described in the usual way. A jail cell becomes a small room without stars and a grave is a forever bed. It’s beautiful and also intriguing to read as you have to constantly guess what it could mean or if there is some other explanation for that description, and then there are the times that you chuckle and think of course, why don’t we always call it that! It makes reading this book a journey, it makes the mystery of what happened all the more intriguing and the characters, especially Alice, all the more vibrant and endearing.
Category: Young adult fiction.
Themes: Family, poetry, love, romance, sexual assault, brothers, speech impairment, resilience, Australia.
Reading age guide: Ages 13 and up.
Advisory: Infrequent coarse language, s***, sl**, wh***. Allusions to sexual assault and physical assault. Vaguely implied sexual scene.
Published: 1 February 2016 by Allen & Unwin.
Format: Paperback, ebook. 264 pages.