The Stars at Oktober Bend
By Glenda Millard
A powerful, captivating story about Alice, who is reaching out to express herself through her beautiful-broken words, and Manny who is running to escape his past. When they meet they find the tender beginnings of love and healing.
Alice is fifteen, with hair as red as fire and skin as pale as bone, but something inside her is broken. She has acquired brain injury, the result of an assault, and her words come out slow and slurred. But when she writes, heartwords fly from her pen. She writes poems to express the words she can't say and leaves them in unexpected places around the town.
Manny was once a child soldier. He is sixteen and has lost all his family. He appears to be adapting to his new life in this country, where there is comfort and safety, but at night he runs, barefoot, to escape the memory of his past. When he first sees Alice, she is sitting on the rusty roof of her river-house, looking like a carving on an old-fashioned ship sailing through the stars.
This review contains some small spoilers.
once upon a time, a boy with no yesterdays asked a girl with no tomorrows for something no one else wanted.
‘The stars at Oktober Bend’ is a tale about the blossoming romance between Alice and Manny. Alice is stuck in her ‘twelveness’ after an assault left her with a brain injury meaning that she has difficulty getting her words out. When Alice writes though she can communicate beautifully and it is through her poems she finds Manny.
Manny was once a child soldier in Sierra Leone and watched his family get murdered before his eyes. He now lives with a family in relative comfort and safety but at night he feels the need to run and it is on one of these runs that he first spots Alice.
Initially I found the writing style of Alice’s chapters hard to read because of the lack of capital letters and the way it is written like a stream of consciousness. However, I soon found myself lost in Alice’s world.
The opening line of the book introduces Alice in the best possible way
, i am the girl manny loves, the girl who writes our story in the book of flying. i am alice.
Alice lives her ailing grandmother and her protective younger brother Joey. Her mother has gone, her father is dead and her grandfather is in jail. They tread a delicate balance between looking after each other and trying to stop others discovering quite how precarious their living conditions are.
Alice’s “electrics went haywire” when she was 12 after she was assaulted.
“it wasn’t my fault, they warn you about everything else – don’t take lollies from strangers, don’t get in cars with people you don’t know, but they never tell you why not. noone said don’t watch the stars at oktober bend…no one told me there were people who did things like that to children. Now my electrics are wrecked and my words come out weird and doctors say i might stay twelve forever.”
i remembered words, struggled to speak them, forgot how to arrange them. how to join them on a page. Alice likes to read anything she can get her hands on, or more accurately anything Joey can get his hands on.
some words happen my heart to thunder in my chest, my electrics hiss and fizz like wetted sherbet in my head. ‘moves’ and ‘make’ and ‘made’. They remind me of when someone forces you to do something, in green paddocks or under the stars at oktober bend or anywhere else.
Joey steals some paper and ink for her to record her poems and alice names it her ‘book of flying’ because words make her feel like she is flying. In this book she writes her poems or ‘alicisms’ as she calls them. Alice wants to share her words with people in any form she can so she begins leaving her poems in public places. She likes poetry because poems can mean whatever the reader thinks they mean and she doesn’t have to worry about whether people will understand her meaning.
The reader is first introduced to Manny in chapter 9 with a chapter written from his point of view. I liked this because it gave a break from the writing style of Alice’s chapters. The first lines of his chapter read,
I am the running boy, the ones who loves Alice.
Manny runs when memories of his former life mean he is unable to sleep despite his comfortable living arrangements with Bull and Louisa James. He runs past a little house on stilts and is captivated when he sees a girl sat in the roof under the stars.
I loved the way the author provides little morsels of information about Alice and Manny’s past throughout the book rather than all at once. “I had never heard of pansies. Flowers do not grow where landmines are buried.”
The poem Manny finds is ‘desire’
“my desire is
my soul is filled
but when I open myself to
see them free
on my lips.
This poem not only provides an insight into Alice it also creates a depth to Manny’s character in the form of his reaction to it. I
read that poem many times and many times it made me sad. Sad for anon, who had songs that no one understood, and sad because I had no songs left inside me.
I love the way alice choses to share the story of what happened to her
two of them crept
like robbers put
their hands over
to keep my screams
inside while they did
what they did
to me afterwards
the tall one afraid
I would tell
hurled a rock
smashed it down and
I felt the author dealt with sensitive issues in a respectful and delicate manner. I loved this book and would definitely recommend it.
Our Final Rating...
Read & Shared 40 Times.