Looking at the Stars by Jo Cotterill

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Looking at the Stars by Jo Cotterill

Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A sad but hopeful story of friendship amidst civil war. Amina's family is ripped apart and she is barely surviving in a refugee camp, but stories and the power of imagination help her hold things together.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: January 2014
Publisher: Bodley Head
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 178230018X

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Amina and Jenna are sisters living under the Kwana regime. Because the Kwana have banned girls from going to school, they contribute to the family finances by weaving baskets and mats from reeds. Life under the Kwana is tough but Potta and Mamie tell their children to keep their heads down and get on with life as best they can. But fighting is breaking out across the country and when Amina sees a column of liberating soldiers, she begins to think life might get better soon.

But it gets worse before it gets better. Amina's brother disappears into the resistance movement. The Kwana want to know where he is. And soon, home isn't safe any more. Separated from the rest of the family, Amina and Jenna find themselves in a refugee camp, where conditions are harsh. How can two young girls survive? And will they ever be reunited with their missing relatives?

I thought this was such a lovely story. Terrible things happen in it but it never loses a sense of hope and humanity. Very importantly, it depicts the way in which people can become destitute refugees through no fault of their own. It is always someone else's war but lives can become devastated so very quickly. One moment, you're making tiny adjustments to the way you live because it's just easier that way. The next, your life has changed completely. And the next, death and violence is all around and you're fleeing for your life. Yet not so long ago, you were going to school, your father was a university professor and your mother was a teacher.

Amina and Jenna are perfect foils for one another. Amina is impulsive and imaginative and quick to react. Jenna is steady, kind, generous and accepting. They need each set of qualities to make it through the experiences they have and Cotterill brings out a sense of teamwork despite the odd bit of jealousy or minor spat between them. The power of imagination is also a strong theme in the book. Amina has always made up stories. For her, they are a lifeline to sanity. And it's lovely to see her amazement when she tells these stories in the refugee camp and comes to realise that they are a lifeline for others, too. Her sense of pride is palpable.

Looking at the Stars is beautifully told in simple but elegant prose and it's a truthful story. It doesn't duck the truth of the terrible situations endured by refugees around the world but it doesn't leave you feeling that everything is hopeless. That's what imagination does, you see.

After Tomorrow by Gillian Cross is another story set in a refugee camp. But in a brilliant role-reversal, this time a young British boy finds himself and unwanted and resented refugee in France. How easily life can go wrong, eh?

Buy Looking at the Stars by Jo Cotterill at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Looking at the Stars by Jo Cotterill at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Looking at the Stars by Jo Cotterill at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Looking at the Stars by Jo Cotterill at Amazon.com.


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