Sarah Allen, What Stars Are Made Of, Puffin Books, April 2020, 288 pp., RRP $14.99 (pbk), ISBN 9780241427965
This first-person narrative is the story of Libby, at age twelve, who has Turner Syndrome. The author, Sarah Allen, is writing from her own experience of life with this rare chromosome defect. Libby is drawn as a very unique individual: loving, funny, smart, quirky and nerdy. As a narrator she is entertaining and sensitive, and has a great deal of insight into herself and those around her, yet she is still sometimes baffled and frustrated by her world.
Libby is highly intelligent, and yet dealing with learning difficulties related to her complex health condition. Whilst the story includes a great deal of exposition of the details of Turner Syndrome, and of some of Libby’s pet projects – overlooked women of science and history – this information, as Libby tells it, never feels like research, but works as character and plot development.
This is also a family story. Libby’s parents and her older married sister are all important and well-developed characters, as is one of her teachers. Making friends is difficult for Libby – her best friend is the library, something that she is fine with, but discovers that sharing this with a teacher makes it embarrassing. She has a rich inner life and also “befriends” her favourite historical figures, at times talking to them, but keeps this to herself. Libby looks up to her sister, and Nonny has that sibling way of talking to her little sister with kindness but not embarrassment, helping her to strategise when making new friends.
There is dark and light in this story, with bullies, family issues and the personal limitations that frustrate Libby, but it is a very positive experience overall. Comparison with R.J. Palacio’s Wonder inevitably comes to mind. What Stars Are Made Of would make a good companion novel to Wonder, especially if you are wanting a girl’s point of view. Both books have appeal for a similar audience, and both are positive, empathic, and very good reading.
Reviewed by Marita Thomson