Title: We See the Stars
Author: Kate van Hooft
Published: June 27th 2018
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Australian, Crime, Mystery
Rating: 4 stars
Simon is an eleven-year-old boy who lives in a world of silence, lists and numbers. He hasn’t spoken for years and he doesn’t know why.
Everyone at school thinks he’s weird and his only friends in the world are his brother Davey and Superman, who’s always there when he needs him.
One day Simon shares his Vita-Weats with Cassie, the scary girl from his class, and a friendship starts to form. And the new teacher Ms Hilcombe takes an interest in him, and suddenly he has another friend as well.
When Ms Hilcombe goes missing, only Simon knows where she is. But he has made a promise to never tell, and promises can never be broken. So now Simon is the only one who can save her.
Completing a Master of Social Work alongside her work as a disability advisor has put debut novelist Kate van Hooft in good stead for the publication of her first novel, We See the Stars. Kate van Hooft puts Simon, an eleven year old troubled and misunderstood narrator, on the centre stage of her evocative first novel. Simon evokes a unique set of eyes and the reader follows Simon’s journey with a sense of wonder.
We See the Stars brings the moving story of Simon, a young boy who is mute, but fills his days with numbers, imaginary friends and lists. We do not know the reasons for Simon’s silence, but when can guess. While many in Simon’s small town and school believe he is odd, he still has friends in the form of his beloved brother Dave, and another who goes by the name of ‘Superman’. Simon’s world changes when he makes a new friend at school, Cassie, who is another student ostracised by her fellow classmates. The arrival of a new teacher, Ms Hilcombe also helps Simon feel like he isn’t alone in the world. But before Simon can count his blessings, Ms Hilcombe disappears. It is Simon’s secret, he knows of Ms Hilcombe’s whereabouts, but he cannot divulge anything further. It is Simon alone who can rescue her.
Kate van Hooft rises to the challenge of producing a refined piece of debut fiction that casts a perplexing eleven year old at the epicentre of the narrative. For a first time novel, We See the Stars is quite breathtaking, incredibly moving and it is defined by some introspective prose. This one challenged me and made my reading experience full from the moment I opened the book, to the time I closed the back page.
Juvenile narrators are not a new phenomenon, I am reminded of three great novels I read only a year ago, The Choke by Sofie Laguna, To Become a Whale by Ben Hobson and Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey. All three of these books changed me as a reader and each book has not left my side. We See the Stars is a book that I feel easily joins these ranks. It is quietly contemplative, refined and stirring. Kate van Hooft does an excellent job of delving deep inside the heart and soul of a misunderstood young boy. There are moments of heartbreak, sadness and clarity. However, van Hooft’s representation of Simon, the main voice of this set piece, is nothing short of astute.
There is a sense of nostalgia that exudes from the pages of We See the Stars. Set in the 1970’s in small town Australia, Van Hooft’s presentation of her setting is incredibly vivid and evocative of the time in which it is set. I was able to firmly grasp the sense of small town single mindedness that exudes from the area in which Simon lives, through van Hooft’s expressive prose. I have a weakness for small town Australians setting of the not too distant past and I applaud van Hooft for getting this aspect of her novel perfectly in sync.
Simon is one amazing, but complicated little soul. I desperately wanted to scoop him up and nurture him! The other side of me wanted to attach Simon with a label, diagnose him and place him in a category of not just simply a ‘weird’ boy. We have come a long way in this department as this book clearly shows. But van Hooft is sensitive and is very methodical in her approach to Simon, she does not place him in a specific box. This aspect of the character of Simon is put aside very effectively. Purposefully I believe, but it is a powerful move nonetheless.
Simon’s interactions with the secondary characters of We See the Stars is both interesting and varied. He is silent with some and animated with others. Kate van Hooft does a fine job of illuminating these segments of her novel. There is a sense of unconditional love between Simon and Dave, a complicated set of relations with Simon and his other family members. Simon’s teacher and a classmate extend the hand of friendship to Simon, allowing him to grow as an individual.
We See the Stars is an intriguing novel, there is plenty to mull over and lots of questions to be asked, which can be perplexing. There are themes in this novel that visibly moved me, such as the treatment of trauma, abuse situations and mental illness. Each of these issues is carefully embalmed by the expert hand of the author, Kate van Hooft. I do warn you, the shut door conclusion may not be to everyone tastes, for me it was fine and seemed to reflect the novel’s intentions well. For others, the lack of closure may send a measure of frustration.
A new figure in the Australian fiction field, Kate van Hooft, has emerged with a sense of determination, humility and a solid understanding of the fragile nature of childhood mental health. We See the Stars opens your eyes to another context of being, with memorable results.
We See the Stars by Kate van Hooft was published on 27th June 2018 by Allen & Unwin. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of We See the Stars, Kate van Hooft, visit here.
We See the Stars, is book #101 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge
*I wish to thank Allen & Unwin for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.