Sunday, 1 March 2020

And the Stars Were Burning Brightly review

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 had so many dreams ... so why did he do it?

Convinced that his brother was in trouble, Nathan decides to retrace Al’s footsteps. As he does, he meets Megan, Al's former classmate, who is as determined as Nathan to keep Al's memory alive.

Together they start seeking answers, but will either of them be able to handle the truth about Al’s death when they eventually discover what happened?

Content warning: suicide and intense bullying

And the Stars Were Burning Brightly is a stunning, important debut that is full of raw emotion and an honest look at the aftermath of suicide.

The dual narrative is beautifully crafted, with Al's brother trying to understand what happened to Al and his friend Megan working through her grief by celebrating his life. Both viewpoints are compelling and believable, and it's really effective how the stories overlap and also take their own directions.

I love that this novel is set in the north of England. The voice captures the accent and dialect of Manchester perfectly and it'd be great to see more YA novels so immersed in different communities. The setting is also vividly described and the plot of the story is very much woven into the sense of place.

This book deals with disturbing subjects very honestly and there are some violent scenes that are hard to read. At the same time, there is beautiful imagery and hope, particularly in the scenes that gave the novel its title. I appreciated how the book gives Al a voice and shows his lasting impact on the world.

And the Stars Were Burning Brightly is a moving, thought-provoking read and one of the most compelling contemporaries I've read for a long time. 

Thank you to Simon and Schuster for the review copy!