Girl Made of Stars, by Ashley Herring Blake
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Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Release Date: May 15, 2018
Length: 304 pages
Source: Yallwest Festival
Times Read: Once
Rating: A beautiful, sad, and important book
“I need Owen to explain this. Because yes, I do know that Owen would never do that, but I also know Hannah would never lie about something like that.”
Mara and Owen are about as close as twins can get. So when Mara’s friend Hannah accuses Owen of rape, Mara doesn’t know what to think. Can the brother she loves really be guilty of such a violent crime? Torn between the family she loves and her own sense of right and wrong, Mara is feeling lost, and it doesn’t help that things have been strained with her ex and best friend since childhood, Charlie.
As Mara, Hannah, and Charlie navigate this new terrain, Mara must face a trauma from her own past and decide where Charlie fits in her future. With sensitivity and openness, this timely novel confronts the difficult questions surrounding consent, victim blaming, and sexual assault.
What I Liked: It’s a really hard book to read, but I liked all of it.
♥ Mara. She’s dealing with a lot of stuff that we don’t know about for a long time. There are big hints along the way, but we don’t hear everything until close to the end. But even though she’s keeping a big secret, Mara is a great character. She’s bi, but that’s NOT the point of this book. It’s just a part of her. She’s confused about her brother, but she knows she believes Hannah. She finds it impossible to not believe both of them, so she tries to separate them completely in her mind. What would you do, when the twin brother you’ve always loved, the boy who’s been a part of you for your entire life, is accused of rape? I am a big advocate of ALWAYS BELIEVE THE GIRLS, but this is an awful situation. How do you reconcile the boy you always knew with the girl you know isn’t lying?
“Owen has always been loud and kind of crude with his friends, but that’s not who he is with me. With me, he’s a boy made of stars, soft and light and safe. He always has been.”
♥ Charlie & Hannah. These two are wonderful friends to Mara. Charlie and Mara have been best friends for years, and they fell in love. Mara ended things because she didn’t want to lose Charlie as a friend, but this ended up making things strained between them. Hannah is Owen’s girlfriend, but also a best friend to Mara and Charlie. After she speaks out about Owen raping her, she never blames any of it on Mara. In fact, she’s completely understanding about how hard this is for Mara, and she’s honest about the fact that she still misses the Owen she knew.
♥ “Believe the girls”. If you read this blog or know me at all, you know how fiercely I feel about girl power, women supporting other women, and the power of believing abuse victims. It is SO RARE that someone lies about being raped, but that’s always the first thing we want to believe. As a society, we insist that women prove someone assaulted them, when their word should be more than enough. We ask the girls what they were wearing or if they were drinking, as if those things matter at all. I was so happy to see Charlie supporting Hannah from the minute it happened, and that Mara never thought Hannah was lying, even when she thought somehow maybe Owen wasn’t, either.
“I can’t think about Owen. I can’t attach his name to Hannah on a hospital bed, bandages on her wrist, tears on her lovely face.”
♥ The sexuality portrayed. As mentioned before, Mara is bi. Charlie is genderqueer, and there were a lot of wonderful discussions about what that meant, which pronouns worked best for her, and the idea of explaining the whole thing to her parents. But none of these are the focal point of the story. This story is and always will be about assault. But the varying sexuality of the characters being a part of their character, but not the only thing about them? Beautiful.
“And hey, that’s more than a lot of kids get, especially in the South, where going out in public as a queer person can be like tiptoeing through a minefield.”
♥ Empowerment. At one point, Mara dresses more sexy than normal in order to take the heat off of Hannah, and she talks about how empowered it makes her feel. Hannah, Charlie, and Mara are all encouraged to empower themselves through speaking out about their experiences. There are also some really great scenes regarding consent. While Owen didn’t bother with it, his friend Alex was always sure to ask for consent with Mara when they fooled around. Mara specifically mentions how empowered and sexy that makes her feel. There are also times where consent is shown being taken away during the act, and after apologizing, the whole thing is immediately dropped without any pressure.
♥ A great rape culture conversation. The author really comes at this from all angles. Mara and Owen’s mom calls herself a feminist, but when Owen is accused of rape, she immediately thinks it was a misunderstanding and can’t entertain the thought that her son would do something like that. We get to see Mara eventually call her out on the hypocrisy. We see Mara struggle with believing both her friend and her brother, and we see Charlie only believe Hannah from the onset. We also see Owen deny that anything had happened, and we see victim-blaming from his friends. There’s a discussion of sexual abuse from an adult to one of the characters, and the shame that goes along with any assault. Like the majority of rapes, Hannah is date raped, and there’s also talk about being raped by a boyfriend, and someone you’ve already slept with.
“I never got it before, you know? All the stories I’ve heard other women tell about how much shame there is in being the one it happens to. But there is. There’s this weight of responsibility, of… god, I don’t know. Of just existing.”
What I Didn’t: A few things, but they were all there for a reason.
⊗ Owen as an asshat. This is an important part of the story, but I hated reading him go from the amazing twin brother he was to Mara to a lying rapist. We get to see him as such a good guy at the beginning, it’s hard to see him spiral out.
⊗ Mara and Owen’s parents. I get it, I do. How do you admit that the son you raised and loved has done something horrifying? Does it erase their good qualities? Can you, in effect, hate the sin love the sinner? It’s a hard question.
Final Thoughts: This book is so important, especially in today’s #metoo era. It’s intense and hard to read, but it’s about a subject that really matters and doesn’t get enough attention. If you get nothing else out of it…believe the girls.
Favorite Quotes: “If we’re not on each other’s side, who will be?”
“Maybe I’m the type of girl who slaps a boy when he does something shitty.”
“This may not be the book you wanted. In many ways, it was not the book I wanted”–This quote comes from the author’s acknowledgement page at the end of the book, but I found it very powerful.