Monday, November 14, 2016

Middle Grade Monday: Connect the Stars


Title: Connect the Stars
Author: Marisa de los Santos & David Teague
Publisher: Harper Collins, 2015. 192 pages (Nook version)
Source: Library digital resources

Publisher's Summary:
When thirteen-year-olds Aaron and Audrey meet at a wilderness camp in the desert, they think their quirks are enough to prevent them from ever having friends. But as they trek through the challenging and unforgiving landscape, they learn that they each have what it takes to make the other whole.

Luminous and clever, Connect the Stars has Marisa de los Santos and David Teague’s trademark beautiful prose, delicate humor, swooping emotions, and keen middle grade friendships. This novel takes on the hefty topics of the day—bullying, understanding where you fit in, and learning to live with physical and mental challenges—all in a joyous adventure kids will love!

My Review: 
First, that's a lovely cover. Just wanted to say that, because once again that's what caught my eye while randomly browsing for a distraction. Now for the review.

The book is told in first person, alternating chapter-by-chapter between the voices of Audrey and Aaron, which actually works well. Sometimes I had to check back to see who we were following, but I think that was about me being tired, not the voices being clear (actually, the voices aren't so very different, but the things they notice and comment on are, if that makes any sense). We start with several chapters of the kids' lives at home, which sets the backstory for why they are going on the wilderness camp and why each struggles with friendship. Of course, knowing that, we know from the start that the two will become friends during this camp experience. And we know that the wilderness camp will test them in unexpected ways.

The story lies in how those things happen. The one drawback, for me, is that the story relies in part on an unbelievable setup for the wilderness trek. The idea that any commercial operation could or would take 15 kids into the desert with only one adult was almost laughable (but probably wouldn't trouble juvenile readers). That adult then exercises a lot of bad judgement and endangers his charges more than once, which is also probably more believable to young readers. For a time, however, the unbelievable elements made me think I might not be able to enjoy the book. And the book does rather depend on there being just the one adult present.

Fortunately, as the kids begin to bond and discover their strengths and overcome their weaknesses, I was more able to engage in the story. I liked that Aaron and Audrey aren't "troubled youths," in the typical sense. This isn't a camp meant to whip kids into shape before they end up in jail. It's "La Viaje a la Confianza," the Journey to Confidence, and while some of the kids are dealing with some major issues, those issues aren't trouble with the law.

And even though things don't exactly go according to plan, they do gain confidence. Audrey and Aaron also come to realize that they can learn to live with their issues, be honest with each other (and the other two friends who are part of what becomes a foursome), and be best friends anyway. In the end, this gets a positive review despite the unrealistic elements, because the message is great without being preached at the reader. Instead, it is wrapped in a mild adventure. The ending gives it a bit of a marking down, for excessive sentiment.

I think this is a good read for any kid who wonders if he or she has what it takes to have friends (which I'm guessing is most junior high kids). But beware: whether or not the reader already loves the outdoors, they are apt to feel at the end as though they could maybe love the desert, and they'll want to go find out. My answer: go . The desert is an amazing place--all our different deserts.

FTC Disclosure: I checked Connect the Stars out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."   

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  1. This does sound good. Heck, I never got over the feeling that it's hard to make friends.

    1. LOL! True enough. (In a funny way, the internet has made that easier. Or maybe it just allows us to take our time without it being so obvious? I only know that I have made a number of real friends, some I've actually met in person and even backpacked with, through the internet).

  2. I loved the cover too, but I think I'll pass on the book.

    1. Probably a good call. This one I think will appeal more to the kids than to us grownups.


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