For characters Audrey & Aaron, keeping friends is tough. Both teens have “gifts” that feel more and more like curses as they enter the wilds of middle school. Audrey can tell when people are lying - and it turns out that everyone lies. Especially in middle school and especially your (former) best friends.
Aaron has a mind like a camera; everything he sees and hears is stored away in his mind, but when it comes to feelings and opinions Aaron worries he might not have what it takes to figure things out. When both kids are sent to a wilderness camp in the deserts of New Mexico, they are forced to rely on themselves and their newfound friendships to survive.
Connect the Stars was everything I love about Middle Grade novels rolled into one book: figuring out life, being awkward, discovering your own strengths, and navigating friendships. One of the biggest challenges that these teens faced was learning what it meant to be vulnerable with others. Letting people in can be scary, especially if you’ve been burned before. In this novel, there were lots of different aspects to vulnerability, and each teen in Audrey and Aaron’s wilderness group had to learn how to make friends in a very individual way. Through all the hiccups that come with trusting others (and trusting yourself), there were lots of bonds formed that made this story a compelling read.
The setting was its own character and I don’t often get to read about teens in a desert camping environment. Growing up in a similar landscape, I really connected with the location and the vivid words the authors, Marisa de los Santos and David Teague, used to create a rich, dangerous landscape.
When one of the campers goes missing, it’s up to these teens to find her and also keep themselves safe. As I mentioned before, there’s a lot of teen initiative in this book and what’s more important than learning to cooperate as a group when you have zero adult supervision? Okay, not zero, but I’m getting to that part.
The only thing that left me feeling very uncomfortable about this story was the camp supervisor, Jare. He was unstable at best, and towards the final quarter of the book, he began to exhibit some really unhealthy reactions towards the teens. Without spoiling the mystery of the plot, I’ll just say that the way in which Jare’s storyline was handled was the only unbelievable part of the story. While Audrey and Aaron both learn the importance of telling the truth, but in a way in which they have authority, the entire group of teens end up covering for Jare’s mistakes. Mistakes that should have had serious consequences for him as an adult in charge of teens. I felt like that plot point did a disservice, both to the characters and the readers, to have such an unhealthy example of how lies can be used. Rather than take everything they’d learned about telling the truth and facing their issues, all of the teens decided to help an adult “save face.” It was the only part of the plot that felt disappointing, as it could have demonstrated that some lies come with very big consequences.
Overall, this book was a great story with a strong cast. The sense of direction was clear from the beginning and the authors followed it through with lots of humor and relatable voices. As the summer draws to a close, this is a great book to add to the list to help keep that camp spirit alive a bit longer.