By Author / Illustrator
Simon & Schuster Ltd
Paperback / softback
When 15-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 had so many dreams ... so why did he do it? Convinced that his brother was in trouble, Nathan decides to retrace Al's footsteps. As he does, he meets Megan, Al's former classmate, who is as determined as Nathan 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?
An extraordinary novel about loss, understanding and the importance of speaking up when all you want to do is shut down, from an incredible new talent, perfect for fans of Angie Thomas, Gayle Foreman, Jennifer Niven and Nikesh Shukla.
Warning - this novel contains themes that some readers may find upsetting, including suicide and intense bullying.
When 15-year-old Nathan discovers that his older brother Al has taken his own life, his world falls apart. Al was a talented artist. Al was ambitious. Al was going places. So why did he do it? Convinced that his brother was in trouble, Nathan looks into Al's life and relationships. As he does, he meets Megan, Al's former classmate, who is as determined as Nathan 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?
This stunning debut is haunting, upsetting, raw, brilliant, astute and devastating in equal measure. And the Stars Were Burning Brightly is a beautifully written story about suicide, the perils of social media, bullying, mental health, homophobia and so much more. Every single one of the characters is totally believable as is every single situation they find themselves in.
Nathan, his brother Saul, his mum and his sister Phoebe are all struggling to cope with Al's death. Saul, the eldest, has taken it upon himself to be the provider since their father left and so shows a tough exterior but underneath he is struggling to come to terms with Al's death just as much as everyone else. I found the relationship between the family heart-warming, the way both Nathan and Saul treated their younger sister Phoebe was both touching and poignant.
Megan is a beautiful character. One of Al's only friends in school, she struggles to understand why he took his own life and wants to celebrate it by putting on an art exhibition of Al's works, and does this whilst coping with her utter confusion over the actions of her so-called best friend Tara. Megan and Nathan's relationship is tender, perfectly paced and beautifully realised.
The villains of the piece are hateful characters but again, scarily realistic. Eli, Cole and Lewi were all in their own way to blame for Al taking his life. Danielle Jawando has drawn from her own life and what she suffered whilst at school which makes this novel even more tender and moving.
And the Stars Were Burning Brightly highlights the cruelty of social media and also the beauty of Art. In the words of Al 'Art speaks when you're unable to' - only too true as we find that Al felt he was unable to talk to anyone and expressed himself through his drawings.
It's a tough read but a necessary one and I can't recommend it highly enough. Once I finished reading this book I went back and reread Al's words which are at the start of every chapter - read in isolation like this, they were even more haunting and upsetting the second time around.
Powerful, gritty and ultimately uplifting, this book deserves so much success. Get it into the hands of as many people as you possibly can - I for one will be championing this novel for a very long time to come.
400 pages / Reviewed by Lucy Georgeson, school librarian
Suggested Reading Age 14+