The Stars at Oktober Bend
i am the girl manny loves. the girl who writes our story in the book of flying. i am alice.
Alice is fifteen, with hair as red as fire and skin as pale as bone. Something inside Alice is broken: she remembers words, but struggles to speak them. Still, Alice knows that words are for sharing, so she pins them to posters in tucked-away places: railway waiting rooms, fish-and-chips shops, quiet corners. Manny is sixteen, with a scar from shoulder to elbow. Something inside Manny is broken, too: he once was a child soldier, forced to do terrible, violent things. But in a new land with people who care for him, Manny explores the small town on foot. And in his pocket, he carries a poem he scooped up, a poem whose words he knows by heart. The relationship between Alice and Manny will be the beginning of love and healing. And for these two young souls, perhaps, that will be good enough.
A Beautiful Book
Alice Nightingale is broken. It's been three years since the horrific act that left her under the "spell of twelveness"--a head injury that doctors said would leave her forever twelve-years-old with (as Alice says) "messed up electrics" that cause her to have seizures when she's under too much stress. Alice's father is dead, and her mother left before Alice's injury to pursue her dream of being a musician. Alice and her younger brother, Joey, live in poverty with their grandmother in a condemned house on stilts near a river.
Alice's brokenness has paved the way for her gifts. Her voice doesn't work well, and although words start off making sense in her head, they don't come out of her mouth the way she plans. To put all of her thoughts out into the world, Alice writes little poems and leaves them around her town. Alice explains why she writes them: "saywords come/slow and slurred/sound stupid/but heartwords fly/from my pen."
Manny James has lost his family to the war in Sierra Leone, and he thinks that he is broken, too. Manny was forced to participate in the war as a child, and the memories of acts seen and committed haunt him--so he runs around the town that has adopted him in an effort to escape his thoughts. His wanderings lead him to Alice and her poems, and the two begin a friendship that could be the key to healing for both of them, although there's danger in their relationship, too.
Alice and Manny are two incredible souls, and their story is filled with pain and beauty. THE STARS AT OKTOBER BEND is told in both of their voices, though Alice's words are the ones that made me linger on each page. It took me a few chapters to fall into the rhythm of the book, but once I did, I had to deal with competing urges: I wanted to rush through to the end to see the outcome, but I wanted to pause after every one of Alice's descriptions and drink in her words.
Glenda Millard has written an unforgettable story of two teens dealing with pain that no one should have to endure. THE STARS AT OKTOBER BEND is more than a book; it's a gift to the reader, and I highly recommend it. My thanks to the publisher and YA Books Central for a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.