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The Stars at Oktober Bend

The Stars at Oktober BendThe Stars at Oktober Bend by Glenda Millard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alice has been twelve for a long time, ever since it happened. Alice lives with her younger/older brother, Joey, her dog, Bear, and Gram on the floodplain at Bridgewater. Their lives are hard, the town thinks them to be poor and worthless, but Alice and Bear and Joey and Gram and Papa (who’s in prison) are family. The family Nightingale.
Alice can’t go to school. Her words jumble between her head and her mouth, but they spill out on onto the page in short poems that express what Alice can’t say out loud.

school is loud too
many people
joey brings me
books teaches
me things looks
after me.

People think Alice is ‘slow’ but she is whip smart. She sees the town and the people. She knows how some of them are. What some of them are. When she sees Manny, with french-knots in his hair, Alice knows he is different. Special. But she also knows that no-one will ever notice her. No-one will ever really see her.

This is a quietly moving book, full of Millard trademark wordsmithery and thoughtful observations. Her descriptions of the world that Alice moves in are, quite literally, poetic.

i sank low
on the pebbled riverbed and watched
my words metamorphose into
pure and perfect bubbles
saw them rise and ride
the current
down-streaming,
imagined them floating
to the ocean
to canada and april,
didn’t know
or care if i was
un-fifteen-like
i was
alice-like.

I’ve taken a star for the lack of capital letters. The number of times I had to re-read a sentence or paragraph because the cues, and consequently the meaning, were lost was frustrating. Understanding the motivation behind it (yes, I felt like Alice, yes, I understood her frustrations) didn’t make it any more enjoyable to read. The beauty of the prose was lost in translation. It was not until about two-thirds of the way through that it started to become less noticeable, but by then I found that there were many things from the start of the story that had been obscured as a result of this design decision.
This is still a recommended read for me. I was genuinely moved by all the people, from Alice and Manny, to Gram and Papa, and Joey and Tilda – and kind Louisa James is that sort of side character that reveals most about the heart of the story. Glenda Millard is the queen of this gentle, deep and thoughtful storytelling. Long may she write.

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