‘Robin? Robin Roberts?’
This is what I imagined was happening in my form room at that moment. I imagined some old-time bespectacled schoolmistress reading my name out over and over from her roll, and in the silence after each call the crickets chirping, the tumbleweed tumbling. I had to imagine it because I wasn’t there. I was lost.
Yes, that really is my name. You’d think that two parents with the surname Roberts would think twice before calling their only daughter Robin, wouldn’t you? You’d reckon. And when you heard that those two parents were Rodney Roberts and Roberta Roberts, you’d think they were just mean – like, if they’d had to suffer all those Rs, then they’d make their kids suffer too. But if you actually knew my parents, you’d get that giving me a Rolls-Royce name was just their cute way of including me in their club: the R&R club. Well, that was their thinking anyway.
A terrible fire sweeps through north-eastern Victoria. In its aftermath, Robin’s parents split up and Robin and her mother move to the city. In her first day at her new school, Robin meets Delia. Delia befriends Robin, although Robin sometimes struggles to understand why. Delia and her brother are also reeling from the effects of the fire, although they are not as able – or perhaps ready – to articulate their loss. A Bush Stone-curlew appears in the local park, far from its natural habitat and connects Robin, Delia and Seth. Life is challenging for each of the teenagers, but it may prove deadly for the out-of-place bird.
As Stars Fall is a gritty, real novel, with hints of magic realism. Three teenagers respond to major trauma in their lives caused by catastrophic fires. Their grief defines every aspect of their behaviour and their responses to those around them. The out-of-place curlew links them and forces them to think beyond themselves and their individual loss. Robin is the main character and her story is told in first person, with Delia and Seth’s stories in third person. Their stories progress, the novel progresses as fast and as intensely as any fire, sweeping all before it and building to an inevitable crescendo. Readers will be swept along too, holding their breath to see who survives. Recommended for mid- to upper-secondary readers.
As Stars Fall, Christie Nieman Pan Macmillan 2014 ISBN: 9781743517697
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller