Books & Literature

Book Review: Catch a Falling Star, by Meg McKinlay

It’s 1979 and the world’s first space station, Skylab, is falling to Earth, bringing back forgotten memories of a 12-year old’s father.

A timely, heart-warming book about space, family and love.

Meg McKinlay grew up in Bendigo, Victoria and after working in a variety of jobs, including Honorary Research Associate at the University of Western Australia, she is now a full-time writer. She has written 18 books ranging from picture books for the very young (No Bears, Duck for a Day, and Let Me Sleep Sheep to name a few) to young adult fiction and poetry for adults.

Catch a Falling Star, set in 1979, follows the return to Earth of one of the world’s first space stations, Skylab. This is a timely release as it is the 50th year since the first moon landing. For those readers interested in science, this novel contains some interesting facts and myths about space and space junk. The way the Earth responded to the imminent arrival of Skylab, and the worldwide fear it caused at the time, is a reminder to those of us who lived through it.

But McKinlay has mostly written about connections: those we have with our parents, children, siblings and friends. It is a story of loss, love and heartache. Written in the first person, Catch a Falling Star is a heart-warming story about two children, Frankie and Newt, who have lost their father after a light airplane crash and his body was never found. It is hard to accept a death when there is no proof that he actually died.

Each family member deals with their grief in a different way and the traditional family roles of parent/child have changed. How can they get themselves back on track, particularly when Skylab is due to land somewhere on Earth at some unknown time and the world is obsessed with its arrival? Throughout the narrative, memories of their father, who was an amateur astronomer, come flooding back. As the world waits for the crash, Frankie and her younger brother Newt try to deal with all the emotions these memories bring.

Frankie is heading off to high school next year. This novel gives children a glimpse into what life was like in 1979 in “a tiny town on the south coast of nowhere, Western Australia”. We meet her teacher, Mrs Easton, who is desperately trying to prepare her class for high school; the bus driver Ronnie; and her best friend Kat. There are also the usual class clowns.

This story is layered with different narratives, with each relationship in Frankie’s life causing grief, uncertainty, loss and moments of happiness. We can also laugh at the different ways the world dealt with the imminent arrival of Skylab: every ludicrous idea actually happened!

This book is hard to put down. The relationships Frankie has with her brother, mother and best friend are all put to the test and we are drawn into her world. We feel compassion and love for this young girl navigating her life, always trying to do what is good and right. It is sad at times and this story demands our compassion.

I highly recommend this book for middle school readers, but don’t just let your children read it, adults will enjoy it too as it brings back memories of a simpler childhood.

Reviewed by Sue Mauger

Distributed by: Walker Books Australia
Released: March 2019
RRP: $17.99

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