Alice is fifteen but to everyone else, she is forever twelve: she has acquired brain injury as the result of an assault she can’t remember, and now her electrics don’t work. She can speak, but her words don’t always come out right. Instead, she writes poetry; beautiful, haunting, anonymous poetry that she leaves all over town, hoping that someday, someone will read her words.
Alice lives with her brother, Joey, and her grandmother, in a house that’s mostly hidden from the rest of the world. Alice doesn’t go to school. Instead, she writes, ties fishing flies, and takes care of her grandmother. Her family is her world, and she wants things to stay the same forever.
Then Alice meets Manny, a boy who reads her poems and wants to hear her speak. Manny was forced to become a boy soldier, and he still suffers from PTSD. In Alice he finds comfort. But not everyone in town wants Alice, her family, or Manny to be happy, and as Alice finds out more of the truth surrounding her life, she will be faced with her greatest fears.
I’m not a fan of stream-of-consciousness writing, nor with lack of proper punctuation or capitalization. The parts of this novel from Alice’s point-of-view employed this, and I initially considered not finishing this. However, I got so drawn into Alice’s tale that I stopped noticing these things—they absolutely made sense for Alice, and by the end of the book, I had forgotten they existed.
This is a book with a lot of sadness, but there is joy and hope as well. I found this very lyrical and compelling, and Alice and her family broke my heart, as did Manny and his story. The other people in town were infuriating, but typical for society, making this a highly believable book to read (even if it made me angry). A very good read, and one I highly recommend.
Glenda Millard is an award-winning author from Australia. The Stars at Oktober Bend is her newest novel.
(Galley provided by Candlewick Press in exchange for an honest review.)