This was my 250th book read according to my personal notes this year, this doesn’t include the many picture and early chapter books I pick up with the girls though but it is a pretty huge achievement and I’m glad it was this book.
I’ll admit I was a little wobbly about reading this, I knew what it was about, what happens and that I would likely be a sobbing mess by the end of it. I tend to avoid books that are likely to make me cry for MH reasons but feeling a little stronger, I am so glad I gave it a go even though it made me cry, there is a courage and an uplifting take from this book.
This book is about the experience of two young children desperately trying to ensure a star is named after their mother in the immediate aftermath of a failed escape attempt from domestic violence.
As adults we immediately know what that is likely to mean, but a child reader may or may not depending on their life experience and as the narrative unfolds and there are brief discussions and childlike alludes to their perception and experience of domestic violence both physical and emotional the truth of these children’s former lives becomes gut wrenching clear from their perception of normal such as the way their dad was constantly ‘rearranging the furniture’, ‘games’ to keep dad happy, and especially Aniyah becoming a ‘pleaser’ who has learned to be compliant so as not to ‘flip switches’ in people. It is very important to be aware of this going in especially if you think this could be triggering for the reader.
But this isn’t a doom and gloom style gritty memoir, this is pure and heartfelt and hopeful and so very very beautiful and innocent I could get weepy again. Raúf does not sugarcoat not dress up the realities of lives like these, but she takes a loving hand that raises up these stories rather than exploiting for shock value; a truly caring gesture for both the reader and those whose real lives resemble these circumstances.
It’s also a powerful statement to place this within the care system, again not painting rainbows of a sadly flawed and struggling system nor avoiding talking about those caters who do not act in best interests, but alongside these asides Raúf is highlighting the human sunshine within where it can be found such as the wonderful foster mum Mrs Iwuchukwu.
Furthermore, actually giving children in care stories they can see themselves in beyond the likes of Tracey Beaker (who is actually a mum herself now) , here an adventure story alongside the drama with children in foster care for different reasons choose to be each other’s family and make Aniyah’s dream come true, I could cry all over again.
This writer is a powerhouse for empathy, this book is so packed full of love and heartbreaking hope I struggled to read the last few chapters for the tears, books like these are necessary to build empathy and understanding of different situations to our own to understand what unites us rather than dividing each other down angry partisan lines.
The Star Outside my Window by Onjali Q Raúf is published by Orion Children’s books