Right from the get go, I know that this was going to be a tear-jerker of a read. I didn’t quite realise how dark it would get, and often while reading I found that I had a sick, anxious feeling in my stomach at the troubles these characters were facing. However, it was an excellent read and something incredibly important that I’m glad is being published. I’ve put my review under the read more tag so that you can take caution before reading.
Please note that And The Stars Were Burning Brightly contains chapters and themes that may be disturbing and/or triggering to some readers, including graphic scenes of suicide and intense abuse. This review will also cover these themes so please have caution when reading.
When fifteen-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 was full of passion and light…so why did he do it?
Convinced that his brother was in trouble, Nathan begins to retrace his footsteps. And along the way, he meets Megan. Al’s former classmate, who burns with the same fire and hope, who is determined to keep Al’s memory alive. But when Nathan learns the horrifying truth behind his brother’s suicide, one question remains – how do you survive, when you’re growing up in the age of social media?
To say that this book was harrowing is an understatement. One of the first chapters of And The Stars Were Burning Brightly begins with the main character, Nathan, reliving the moments he found his brothers body hanging in his bedroom. It’s graphic and gut wrenching, but instantly puts you in the shoes of Nathan as he feels this crushing grief. We also meet Megan, one of Al’s closest friends who, whilst also struggling with her grief, is dealing with her best friend changing for the worst and becoming ever more disrespectful of her and her feelings.
The book is told between these two characters, and is a really good blend of how different people act when grief is consuming. Nathan, Al’s brother, is struggling a lot, and slowly sinks further and further into sorrow, anger and loss before being able to acknowledge his feelings. Megan, on the other hand, recognises this as a time to celebrate Al’s life; his artworks, his thoughts and feelings, his love of the stars and interesting world facts, and begins to plan an exhibition, all the while using it as a crutch to keep her from spiralling.
The twining of Nathan and Megan’s lives is surprisingly beautiful – they are both bound by their grief of Al. Nathan wants out of his house, where the memory of Al is always present and his mum and older brother are desperately trying to get through to him to go to therapy. Megan is remembering old feelings of grief from her father’s death years before, and wants to try and do something positive to remember Al for who he was; an artistic, bright spirit. The two storylines are well crafted in the way they come together and are well written to show how they help the other grow.
The sense of determination in this book is the key drive to finding out what happened to Al, and what drove him to commit suicide. Nathan knows that it’s not as simple as first meets the eye, so takes it upon himself to find out what was happening in Al’s life. The further down the rabbit hole he goes, the more disturbing things come to light. The puzzles and the mystery is well-paced in how things come together, and I didn’t guess what was happening until the big reveal which is always impressive in a book. It shows that things have been well plotted and planned.
This book is an incredibly well written debut. There is always a sense of dread and agony as you read, as if the book is consuming you in grief along with all of the characters. I loved how the book was written in a style and accent of where Nathan is from – Manchester. I also loved how every chapter started with Al’s thoughts – whether they were thoughts on the characters or revisiting a memory. It was a really clever and necessary touch, as it gave further insight into Al as a person and what drove him in his life, as well as the things he wished he had told his brother.
Rating: A heart crushing and cleverly written story of grief and mystery. 4/5
Huge thanks to publishers Simon & Schuster for sending me a review copy of this book! And The Stars Were Burning Brightly is out March 5th 2020 in paperback format.