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And the Stars Were Burning Brightly by Danielle Jawando - Review

Saturday, March 21, 2020

First of all this is a book about a boy who has just lost his brother to suicide, so there is obviously a lot of chat about suicide. Danielle talks at the beginning of the book about how she was bullied at school and attempted suicide because of that, so obviously this book is very personal for her. 

I also have to say that I have the experience of surviving the suicide of a loved one. I lost my dad to suicide when I was 24, when he was 55. He had been ill for quite a while beforehand, but we obviously didn't know it would end in suicide. It's twelve years later and I still deal with the grief of it. Suicide is a grief like no other - not only is it a sudden death, but it's got a unique grief to it because there's understandably anger, abandonment, and an eternal questioning of why it happened and how you could have done something to help. After Caroline Flack's recent death, I wrote this piece for Global Comment about surviving a suicide, which I would encourage you all to read. What I'm saying is, this is a subject close to my heart and I really wanted the book to do it justice. 

Where did I get it? Netgalley, so many thanks to Simon & Schuster for granting me access to this book. 

What's it about? Nate is fifteen years old and lives in Wythenshawe in Manchester with his mum, two brothers Saul and Al, and sister Phoebe. At the very beginning of the book, it is just a couple of days since Al has taken his own life. Nate found him and is obviously very shocked and dealing with his grief. Nate also feels really guilty because Al phoned him just before he died, but Nate didn't pick up and now he thinks that if he had, he could have saved Al. 

He makes friends with Al's friend Megan. Half of the novel is told from her point of view. Al was an artist, and Megan starts to work with Al's artwork to find out what he was going through. There's also excerpts from Al's sketchbook, things he wanted to write down, at the beginning of each chapter. 

Nate is convinced there's some reason as to why Al died, and he tries to uncover why Al had stopped talking to her best friend Lewi. Lewi hangs around with these idiots Eli and Connor now, and Nate isn't sure what happened. However, Saul, Nate's eldest brother, wants him to leave things alone.

Meanwhile Megan, who liked Al but never really stood up for him, mostly because she feared teasing from her best friend Tara. Now that Al is dead, she feels awful about it. Tara keeps saying awful things to her and Megan starts to put some distance between them. There's more bullying going on, especially online. There's quite a few excerpts of online harassment and so on. 

This book is great because it's set in the north and features a working class family! It's something we badly need more of in YA fiction and I am so happy I got to read this book for that reason as well as many others. Go, buy it immediately. 

What age range is it for? 15+ as there's some violence and obviously talk about suicide. 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes, and that's all I'll say. 

Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, Nate and his family are mixed race. Their dad, who walked out a couple of years prior to the book, is black. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No, but there's obviously chat about bad mental health and so on. 

Is there any sex stuff? No 

Are drugs mentioned or used? I think there's a few mentions of weed, but nothing graphic or too strong. 

Is there any talk of death? Yes, obviously. Some of it is graphic as Nate comes to terms with his brother's death, so be careful. 

Are there swear words? Yes, judiciously used. I actually loved the way language was used in the book, and the way that especially Nate's personality came out through the slang he used. It felt really northern, too, for instance there was a lot of "I weren't" instead of "I wasn't". 

What criticisms do I have? Almost none, but there were a couple of times when I thought discussion of how Al killed himself was too graphic. This may have been changed before the final print, though.  

Would I recommend the book? Yes absolutely, it's brilliant. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I just wanted to get to it quickly!

What do I think of the cover? I think it's really vibrant and eye catching, and it's a bit like some of Al's artwork, so it works really well. 

What other books is it like? It reminded me of Jackpot by Nic Stone, the family situations are written about similarly. 

How many stars? Five out of five, it's absolutely fantastic. I loved both Nate and Megan and thought their grief was brilliantly done. 

And the Stars Were Burning Brightly was published on 9th March 2020. I was given a free electronic copy of the novel but was not compensated in any other way for this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

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