Girl Made of Stars
by Ashley Herring Blake
read in April 2018
release date: May 15th, 2018
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.
I received an e-ARC from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s Book Group through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review! All quotes are taken from an unfinished ARC and may differ from final publication.
When I read an e-ARC of How To Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake last year, I was taken aback by how relatable the novel was because I hadn’t expected it to be. It made me feel a bit uncomfortable at first, but afterwards, I realised how much it meant to me. Girl Made of Stars surprised me in a similar way. I had expected the book to move me (based on the synopsis), but I hadn’t anticipated how connected I would feel to the characters. From the bisexual representation to portrayal of rape survivors, I feel like Ashley Herring Blake writes novels that I relate to in every single way; no other author has been able to define me like she has.
Girl Made of Stars is not an easy read. I sobbed so many times. There is one chapter in particular (chapter 18 in my e-ARC) that describes child sexual abuse very graphically. If this is a trigger for you, you might want to skip that chapter.
Mara, the protagonist, is bisexual. The representation is #OwnVoices and I love how the attraction wasn’t limited to the binary genders. Her ex is genderqueer and non-binary (uses she/her pronouns throughout the book) and a side-character is Korean. During an argument Mara deadnames her ex (she prefers to be called Charlie), but that’s challenged almost instantly.
In the author’s note, Blake writes the following:
But as I wrote Mara and Hannah’s story, I realized I could not write the book I really wanted to write, one in which all foes are vanquished and justice is served and every wrong is made right. That is not the world we live in.
This is the book that reminded me that despite a system and a culture that is perpetually against us, that lets our oppressors go free, that disbelieves our words, there is hope. There is love. There is comfort. There is healing. There is life after abuse. A good life. It’s not an easy one. It’s not the same one we had before. But it is still ours.
These statements beautifully capture the essence of this novel. When Mara’s twin brother is accused of raping his girlfriend (who is also Mara’s friend), she feels torn. She can’t believe that her brother would do that, but she doesn’t think her friend would ever lie about that.
Her mother on the other hand instantly believes her son’s innocence, whereas she claims to be a feminist. The complexity in this novel is astonishing. Every character is three-dimensional, which makes it so realistic. We have seen plenty of times that people scream “believe victims”, until their friend/spouse/etc. is accused. It’s nice to see that Ashley Herring Blake is aware of this complexity and didn’t divide her characters between good people and villains.
It meant a lot to me that this rape case took place between people who were in a relationship. Discussing sexual assault in a relationship is still so taboo. Just because you have given consent at one time, doesn’t mean you can’t withdraw it.
Everyone thinks that when someone gets ra —” She swallows hard and takes a deep breath. “That when someone gets raped, it’s this quick, spontaneous thing, always violent with bruises and black eyes. But I guess that’s not always the case, you know?
I am very thankful that this book uplifts the voices of survivors instead of giving a platform to (fictional) perpetrators to defend themselves. The victims not only have to live with the fact that they were assaulted, they also live with guilt, because that’s what they’ve been taught: “What if I hadn’t…? It’s actually my fault because….”. Furthermore, we hold survivors accountable for stepping forward to prevent others from getting hurt, instead of holding the actual perpetrators accountable.
I could go on praising this book because it truly portrays the experiences of survivors so beautifully. When I hear about rape, I am angry. I want to see consequences. But when it comes to myself, I can hardly admit it even happened. I’m probably never going to say this out loud and I’m probably never going to step forward, so I am thankful that Girl Made of Stars tells me that’s okay.
content and trigger warning for underage drinking, sexual assault (including rape), victim-blaming, PTSD (panic attacks and sex-repulsed as a result of being sexually abused as a child), aromisia (“just friends”, unchallenged), queerphobia (also internalised; challenged), intentionally dead-naming of a non-binary character (challenged)
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