Sunday, January 12, 2020

The Star Outside my Window, by Onjali Q Raúf

Ten year-old Aniyah is a star hunter, an astronomer, thrilled by the discovery of a new star in the night sky. But she thinks the star is her mum, whose heart has ascended, and is determined to ensure that the star hunters at the Royal Observatory Greenwich give it her mum's name. As she sets off with her friends from the foster home on an epic quest to Greenwich, we realise what Aniyah and her five year-old brother do not: their mum was murdered - by their dad.

I rattled through this exciting, emotional story full of high stakes. It would be wretched to quibble the practicalities of the journey Aniyah and her friends undertake - is there really a bus from Victoria coach station to Island Gardens, and could you get all that way without anyone checking you'd paid? - or the physics of the star that passes close to Earth. It's certainly never easy, and Aniyah and her friends show incredible daring along the way. The conclusion, in which Aniyah must face the awful truth that she's evaded so long, is beautifully done.

For all the awfulness, the book is peppered with kindly adults - the amazing foster mum Mrs Iwuchukwu who has tragedies in her own life, kindly superhero actress Audrey Something, and helpful astronomer Professor Grewal. The other foster children all have their histories, too - and in the case of all but one of them, that makes them keen to support Aniyah whatever it takes. That really got me: people inspired by their own experience of crisis to help someone else through theirs.

I also liked the resolution for the "villainous" character, Sophie - explaining her insecurities and returning the thing she takes from Aniyah without her ever quite apologising. It's a remarkable adventure but Raúf ensures that it feels credible to the end. The story wraps up the plot about the star satisfactorily but I find myself wondering what becomes of all these characters afterwards - always a good sign in a book.

Raúf explains in the end section the inspiration for the story - the murder of her own aunt Mumtahina, which also inspired her to set up Making Herstory - and is careful about warning readers in advance of the subject matter.
"The author of this story does not like to link the word 'Domestic' to the word 'Abuse'. This is because the word 'Domestic' implies that abuses happening inside the home should remain private, even when they constitute a crime, whilst also making many people too embarrassed to report abuses. However, as the prevailing term, she has used it throughout this book for clarity." (footnote to the dedication)
So this is a lively story about a very difficult subject told with flair, insight and sensitivity. 

No comments: