Nicole Melanson ~
If you haven’t heard of We See the Stars yet, give it time. I strongly predict this title will be cropping up on shortlists for 2018.
Kate van Hooft’s debut novel is both beautiful and troubling. The eleven-year-old narrator, Simon, doesn’t speak, his silence taking on a life of its own. Some of the people around him use him as a sounding board, others as a projection; still others take his mutism as a form of judgement. This almost gives Simon the role of a collective unconscious in his community.
But within Simon’s head, several different voices co-exist. Simon occasionally dips into second person; later, he has entire, two-sided conversations with a dead man. He is also prone to lists, which provide breathing space between some of the heavier scenes.
This fragmentation further splinters into magic realism. Whilst Simon continues going through the motions of everyday life, his mind creates alternate realities, including a resident superhero. Additionally, Simon’s physical experience is anthropomorphized, with bees, for example, representing emotional distress.
It is understood that Simon is different from his peers, but van Hooft avoids assigning him any anachronistic labels eg. autism. Instead we see how Simon struggles to reconcile his own differences with neurotypical expectations, resulting in ongoing friction. However, when Simon is allowed to interact with the world in his own unique way, his perceptions are detailed and intense; one particularly vivid description of a library’s carpet captures this engagement perfectly.
Above all else, We See the Stars is a book that explores the role of trauma and the long-term implications it has for a community. Aside from the controversies surrounding whether to integrate or distance Simon from his family and school, there are other threads of domestic violence, mental illness, and child abuse woven throughout the book.
Do not read this novel expecting any tidy resolutions; the ending is wildly ambiguous and open to interpretation. I finished We See the Stars almost two weeks ago and my head is still swirling with thoughts and speculations. For this reason, I wholeheartedly recommend this as the perfect choice for book clubs. There is much to appreciate here, and even more to discuss.
We See the Stars can be purchased from all great Australian book shops and is also available from Allen & Unwin here.