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The Star Outside My Window

“I've always wanted to be a Star Hunter. But I don't want to be the kind that looks for old stars that have already been burning for millions of years. I want to find the brand new ones - the ones that have only just been born and are searching for the people they've left behind.”

Astronomy mad, ten year old Aniyah and her brother Noah, have been put in foster care after their Mother ‘disappeared’, while playing a rather big game of ‘hide-and-seek’ from their father. They were in the ‘hotel that wasn’t a hotel’ when they heard the news, and they are not sure if their Dad will ever find them.

Aniyah, is reassured by something her mother once told her…that people with the brightest hearts never truly leave…they become the brightest stars in the sky, and watch over everyone they had to leave behind. Aniyah's mother had an extra-special heart, which means she would be an extra bright star.

She also knows for sure because of the noise she heard when her Mum left her to turn into a star. So when she hears on the news that a new bright star is spotted acting strangely in the sky, defying nature’s odds, Aniyah is sure it's her Mum who is finding the best place in the sky to watch over her and Noah. When a competition is announced to name the new star, Aniyah is determined to make sure that it is named after her mother.

So, on Halloween, begins a hair-brained, mad-cap adventure dressed in costumes, riding sneaked away bikes all the way to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, London, from Waverly, a village near Oxford. Along with their foster brothers, Aniyah and Noah, journey to see their mum through the Great Equatorial Telescope and try to convince the astronomers to name the new star after their mother, Isabella.

The story is compelling, and it will pull you along, with its oddball but incredibly loveable cast of characters. But behind this fun, bonhomie and eccentricity, lies a theme that has not been touched upon often by many children’s books…domestic violence.

I remember first reading a children’s book about domestic violence in ‘Behind the Lie’ by Asha Nehemiah. I was confused, torn and wondered…do we really need to write about this for children? But with ‘diversity’ being the buzzword in children’s book publishing today, gender issues, disability, caste, colour…seem almost tame in this regard.

Would I keep books on domestic violence on the library shelves? The fact that I was uncomfortable, was the answer to my question. It meant that not enough of people were comfortable talking about the subject. Every child needs to see themselves in books, to know that there are others who go through something like this too. They need to know that there is hope, that there is someone they can turn to. A book that gives them that glimmer of light towards which they could move for help, is one that is needed on my library shelves.

The story is narrated by 10-year-old Aniyah and subtly touches on domestic violence and its devastating impact and consequences on the lives of those living through it. There is nothing explicit about the description of the violence. Referred to as ‘Furniture being rearranged', 'plates breaking', 'games to keep dad happy', 'Aniyah learning to be a pleaser so as not to ‘flip switches’ in people’…the reader gets the sense that all is not right.

As an adult reading this book, I was a little irritated by how smoothly everything works out…a road block, followed by a convenient solution. But given the age group this book is meant for, I doubt it will annoy the reader.

I love the cast of characters. Oddballs and people full of heart…how easy it is to be kind and feel, yet how many of us do. Friendship, determination, belief, love, acceptance, resilience and hope shine through. There are a host of strong and inspiring female characters to boot. Mrs Iwuchukwu...the foster Mum, Dr Jasmine Grewal...the astronomer and Miss Audrey, the biggest star in Hollywood.

This is my second book by Onjali Q. Rauf…the first being ‘The Boy at the Back of the Class, which I reviewed here a few months ago. She has endeared herself to me as a writer. While tackling difficult subjects, she has the ability to write with empathy, throwing in humour and adventure. She doesn’t use ‘shock-value’ but rather draws out the readers own thoughts and feelings and yes, keep tissues handy…tears will stream down your cheeks.

The author has very thoughtfully added a few helpful sections, both pre- and postscript about the nature of the story and domestic abuse, as well as information for how to get help...if ever needed. As the news talks about the rise of Domestic Violence during the lockdown, this book seemed almost topical.

THE STAR OUTSIDE MY WINDOW AUTHOR: Onjali Q Rauf Age: 10+ Publisher: Hachette India I picked up my copy at the most wonderful bookshop in Bangalore...Champaca. #thestaroutsidemywindow #mythaunty #onjaliqrauf #domesticviolence

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