Today’s review is for the heartbreaking YA novel, And The Stars Were Burning Brightly by Danielle Jawando. Many thanks to Danielle, and to Simon and Schuster, for providing me with a copy of the book which I received via NetGalley.
An emotionally rich and current story of suicide, mental health, bullying, grief and growing up around social media.
When fifteen-year-old Nathan discovers that his older brother Al has taken his own life, his whole world is torn apart.
Al was special.
Al was talented.
Al was full of passion and light…so why did he do it?
Convinced that his brother was in trouble, Nathan begins to retrace his footsteps. And along the way, he meets Megan. Al’s former classmate, who burns with the same fire and hope, who is determined to keep Al’s memory alive. But when Nathan learns the horrifying truth behind his brother’s suicide, one question remains – how do you survive, when you’re growing up in the age of social media?
Every now and again a book comes along that just feels so important that it should be compulsory reading in all secondary schools, and this is one such book.
Told from the dual points of view of Nathan and Megan, interspersed with snippets of insight from Al himself, and written using the vocabulary each of them would naturally speaking in, I did find the writing style a little tricky to get used to (especially at first as I had assumed the book was written by an American author for some reason and it isn’t), but once I had settled in to it, it was actually rather perfect for the story being told.
From the blurb, I had expected this book to reduce me to tears, but what the author does in fact is capture that numb, empty feeling you get when you lose someone, the feeling that spreads right through your body until it consumes you, the raw pain of a death, in a way that I don’t think I have experienced in a book until now.
And The Stars Were Burning Brightly raises some very important questions about whether being alone is worse than being surrounded by people but feeling lonely because you can’t be yourself. As an adult I know what my answer would be, but back when I was a teenager I am not so sure.
Reading this book, I was once again reminded of how grateful I am that social media was not around when I was growing up so I could escape my bullies at the end of the day. In this book, Danielle serves a devastating reminder of the damage that can be caused by social media and the heartlessness of kids (and adults for that matter) hiding behind their screens. The fact that the events of this book were inspired by the author’s own horrific experiences of bullying at school and attempted suicide just serve to make this book all the more hard hitting.
And The Stars Were Burning Brightly is a painful read but is a book that I would urge everyone to read.