“Stargazing For Beginners” by Jenny McLachlan

This particular NetGalley read gave me both positive and negative feelings. On the one hand, I enjoyed the book. On the other hand, I was constantly aware that I was really a little bit too old for it, and that stopped me from fully enjoying it. I’ve been aware for a while that more and more YA feels “young”, so this is a reflection on me more than on the book, but any book that makes me painfully aware that I’m getting old is going to prompt a mixed response.

I DON’T WANT TO BE A GROWN-UP. ADULT BOOKS ARE FULL OF ROMANCE AND TAXES. LET ME STAY IN THE YA SECTION FOREVER PLEASE.

Publication date: April 6th, 2017

Anyway. Stargazing for Beginners was a cute and engaging story about friendship and family and space — and because I didn’t have the spoons to rewrite my Goodreads review completely, I’m going to review it in bullet points.

Things I liked:

+ That the main character is a nerd, and specifically a space / science nerd. While book-loving characters are not uncommon, they usually hate school or studying, and it’s very rare to find a character who is fascinated by studying (but who doesn’t like school due to bullies etc) and whose strengths are maths and science.
+ That there’s a big emphasis on friendship and even though there is a very small romantic subplot, the character’s journey was at least as much about making friends as about falling for a boy.
+ That one of the friends she makes is in a wheelchair, but she’s a total badass and takes nobody’s crap. Although she inspires Meg, she does so as a friend and not as inspiration-porn “oh look at the disabled kid not hating their life, that’s so inspiring”.
+ That her other new friends are also great and willing to help her and give up their time and so on.
+ That I actually learned some stuff about space from reading this. Did you know that moon dust smells like gunpowder? I mean, there were definitely parts of the book that went over my non-sciencey head, but I think I managed to follow it pretty well.
+ That Meg just … can’t do babies. At least at first. She’s been left with her little sister while her mum gallivants off doing spontaneous aid work on the other side of the planet, and she has no idea how to deal. It’s relatable — I don’t understand small humans either. I don’t think I’d cope nearly as well as Meg does.
+ Meg’s eccentric family, even if I wanted to slap her mum for leaving. Her grandad’s electricity-generating hamsters amused me, as did the chickens. (And I loved the bit where Meg’s faced with an awkward moment so she just … picks up a chicken? As you do?)

Things I was less keen on:

– Honestly, I mostly liked this book, so there’s not a lot to say here. It’s more about me than it is about the book itself. It felt very ‘young’ for a book about a fifteen-year-old character, so I think it’s definitely at the younger end of YA, maybe even older children’s. The style is a bit juvenile and, while there is romance, it’s definitely just of the ‘crush’ variety rather than the all-consuming love that tends to characterise a lot of YA (though that’s a good thing in my opinion). However, as an older reader it sometimes felt a bit too simplistic.
– I also spent most of the book really angry at Meg’s mum, which I think I was supposed to.
– I’m kind of annoyed it made me invested in a baby because I really don’t like babies.

On the whole, this was an uplifting book that made me smile, featuring a girl who really, REALLY wants to be an astronaut and is willing to work to get there. It deals with interpersonal relationships — friendship and family and romance alike — in a nuanced and entertaining way.

If I were a few years younger, I think I might’ve really enjoyed this. At 21, I was definitely not the target audience, and it was definitely quite a ‘young’ YA book, possibly even edging into upper MG. (The character is in year ten, which makes her fourteen or fifteen, but it was definitely a more lighthearted story than many I’ve seen with characters of that age.)

Rating: ****

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