Books & Literature

Book Review: A Glasshouse of Stars, by Shirley Marr

MIDDLE GRADE: Meixing Lim and her family have arrived at the New House in the New Land. Her parents said this would be a better life for them all, but surviving will take all the resilience and inner belief of this brave girl.

An important story for all ages that has the power to bring adults back to childhood.

It’s not so often that a full-length novel written in the second person comes along. A point of view that constantly refers to you, the reader, risks becoming cumbersome and confusing. Shirley Marr’s A Glasshouse of Stars, however, is anything but. This unique narration style puts the reader smack-bang in protagonist Meixing’s shoes as she navigates life in the New Land.  

This is a story of belonging, family, and sacrifice. Meixing and her family struggle to fit in after leaving their home and emigrating to Australia. And then tragedy strikes. As she battles to find her place at school and in her new house, Big Scary, Meixing finds that her only refuge is a glasshouse in the garden. In there, she unlocks her imagination and memories, unleashing a magical world to share with her new friends. 

Marr explains on Goodreads that she chose a second-person voice because the more common options, first and third, didn’t quite work. After spending a few chapters taking in this unexpected narrative style, it becomes clear that second person is just right for this story. Any other voice would have struggled to connect the reader with Meixing’s hopes, fears, and feelings in the same way. 

This is an emotional ride with sad moments, happy moments, and everything in between. Above all else, it leaves the reader with a lasting feeling of hope. Through the racist encounters that Meixing, her family, and friends experience in the story, the reader can begin to understand what it’s like being an immigrant. 

A fantastic Own Voices read for anybody who has ever felt like they don’t belong, this book also has points of connection for those who have experienced bullying or loneliness. A diverse audience may see themselves in Meixing, based on either her identity or her experience of being othered by the people around her. The book may be a helpful tool to teach children about the plight of refugees and migrants and help to develop a sense of kindness and empathy in the next generation.

A Glasshouse of Stars is told through a child’s eyes and is intended for a middle-grade audience. But the book is engaging for all ages, with the remarkable ability to bring adults back to childhood. Meixing doesn’t always understand the full extent of what’s going on around her, but the emotions she feels in response are universal. Her story combines powerful, crystal-clear prose with concepts that are meaningful to both adults and children.

Reviewed by Vanessa Elle
Instagram: @vanessaellewrites

Distributed by: Penguin Books Australia
Released: 4 May 2021
RRP: $16.99

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