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. 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?
Expected publication date: 5th March 2020
Trigger warnings: Bullying, suicide, mental health, homophobic language / slurs, sexist language
*I was sent an ARC / kindle edition of this novel via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*
I feel like And The Stars Were Burning Brightly is one of those books which should be essential reading for every teenager growing up in this current generation, but can be read by any age group as it tells such a vital, timely and devastating story. The book follows Nathan, as he deals with the suicide of his older brother Al and the subsequent questions and trauma that follows. While the rest of his family are grieving and dealing in their own way, Nathan grows more and more troubled by what led up to his brothers death and what could have been going on to lead him to take his own life.
This book is honestly one of the most heartbreaking stories I have read and is so deeply honest and raw. Danielle Jawando has managed to portray so many serious topics with such grace and power, allowing the reader to really connect with the story and characters. I’d also like to mention that the novel is very much inspired by the authors own life and experiences as a young person going through a very difficult time. I think it’s so admirable that she has chosen to put this experience into her novel and has the courage to do so. I’m certain this will help others who might be in a dark place and show them that there is still hope and light at the end of the tunnel so to speak. I really loved that there were mental health resources listed at the end as well.
The novel is told in dual perspective, so we follow both Nathan and Megan as they deal with the loss of Al and finding out the truth of what he was going through. I thought this was such a good choice as it allowed us to see exactly how both the characters were dealing with their overwhelming grief and guilt as well as the unique relationships they had with Al, as one was a family member and other, his best friend. It’s so clear throughout the novel just how much they loved Al and how special he was to them both, which makes what happens all the more gut wrenching. The relationships between the characters feel so true and I loved the bonds between Nathan and the rest of his family too.
As well as the dual perspectives, I thought the way in which the novel was written also added a lot. The majority of the characters we encounter in this novel are teenagers, and they talk, act and behave like teenagers and it was such an authentic portrayal in many ways. They use slang, they swear, they make mistakes – which is reflected in the text which again made it feel more authentic to me. Too often I think we hold teenagers to impossible standards, so it was refreshing to see a portrayal of teen characters which felt honest and allowed them to feel how they felt without a judgemental tone.
Tying in with the authentic element, I think Jawando managed to capture the toxic and harmful side to Social Media and the very real impact of it so well in this novel. Ranging from the negative comments to the sharing of private photos, to abusive videos going viral with endless trolling. There’s a real spectrum of all the nasty side of the internet and social networking apps depicted here and how they can be misused. I think she also captures how pervasive this abuse can be and how it’s not just a ‘joke’ as so many of the characters in the novel try to say in order to shift blame from themselves for contributing to Als fragile state of mind. On the flip side, Jawando shows how social media can be a source of good towards the end of the novel when Megan starts the hashtag #BurnBright and people use it to celebrate Als art and talent.
While the book is serious in nature given the subject matter, it also has moments which are more uplifting and hopeful as well, which is reinforced by how the novel ends. Al was such a bright and amazing person and deserved so much more in life than what he got, but through his loss, those around him come to key realisations about how they want to live as well. Prior to Als death, Nathan didn’t have any direction or hope about his future, assuming he wouldn’t amount to anything due to his lack of resources and peoples perceptions of him as a young black man. Megan too had low confidence in her abilities as an artist and had a toxic friendship which was sapping her energy. However, through their shared loss, both these characters are inspired by Al and their love for him to live life on their own terms and move forward the way he would have wanted them to.
Overall, And The Stars Were Burning Brightly was an insightful and powerful story which will definitely touch a lot of readers with it’s depiction of suicide and the far reaching impacts of bullying. Above all however, this is a story of lost potential and the realities of dealing with such an immeasurable loss but finding hope and the strength to go on despite it all. I think Als hashtag says it best, Burn Bright.
Until next time,