Some authors have the gift of being able to create incredible worlds that you get lost in. Other authors bring characters alive that are so real they could almost jump off the page. Glenda Millard’s characters become your life-long friends and they haunt you long after you have finished their story. When you read Glenda Millard’s new book, The Stars at Oktober Bend, you won’t want to say goodbye to Alice Nightingale.
Alice is fifteen, with hair as red as fire and skin as pale as bone, but something inside her is broken. She has acquired brain injury, the result of an assault, and her words come out slow and slurred. But when she writes, heartwords fly from her pen. She writes poems to express the words she can’t say and leaves them in unexpected places around the town. Manny was once a child soldier. He is sixteen and has lost all his family. He appears to be adapting to his new life in this country, where there is comfort and safety, but at night he runs, barefoot, to escape the memory of his past. When he first sees Alice, she is sitting on the rusty roof of her river-house, looking like a carving on an old-fashioned ship sailing through the stars.
The Stars at Oktober Bend is an absolutely amazing story with unforgettable characters. Glenda Millard’s writing is beautiful and I fell in love with her characters. It took me a few chapters to get used to Alice’s unique voice but I had to know about her life and how she got to be the ‘damaged’ person that she is at the beginning. Alice tells her story both through prose and verse. Alice and Joey’s father is dead, their mother has left them and their grandfather is in jail. As the story progresses you learn what happened to Alice and her family to get them to where they are.
I couldn’t stop thinking about the characters. Alice and Manny took up residence in my head, going everywhere with me. They are both damaged my their past – Alice by the trauma that she has suffered and Manny by war in Sierra Leonne. Alice and Manny get to have their own voices in the story so we see the world from their unique points of view. I loved the development of Alice throughout the story, especially how those around her helped her to grow. Although I loved Alice and Manny, my favourite character was Alice’s brother Joey. Joey is the sort of brother that any sister would be lucky to have. He is always there for her, to help her make sense of the world. He is trying to keep what is left of his family together, while trying to be his own person.
Glenda shows both the best and the worst of humanity in her story. The people who killed Manny’s family in Sierra Leonne and the guys who damaged Alice show us the worst of humanity, but Joey and Manny’s adopted parents, Louisa and Bull James, show us the best of humanity in their kindness and love.
There are so many parts of Glenda’s amazing story that I love. I stopped reading many times just to marvel at what I had just read and the beauty of Glenda’s words. This is a tender morsel of text from the story and it’s a quote that I feel sums up the mystery of the story.
most days joey told me
at least one interesting face
to make up for school cut short
because of what happened
one starry, starry night,
and the fear
that sometimes still
squeezed my lungs
froze my limbs and tongue and talk,
as though he thought
interesting facts would
somehow subtract all that
and the disgrace that followed
The Stars at Oktober Bend is a must-read book for teens and adults. Add a little bit of beauty to your world and grab a copy now.