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The Stars at Oktober Bend    by Glenda Millard order for
Stars at Oktober Bend
by Glenda Millard
Order:  USA  Can
Candlewick, 2018 (2018)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In The Stars at Oktober Bend, Glenda Millard gives us the lyrically written story of two vulnerable, badly traumatized young people, who eventually find - and are able to help - each other.

Something terrible happened to Alice at age twelve. The action her grandfather took afterwards sent him to prison and left her grandmother bereft. Alice's severe head injury left her speechless. She can form sentences (and poems) in her head. She can write them down, but she has great difficulty getting words out. Red-haired Alice is broken, but doesn't recall the details of what happened to her.

Boys have called her moron, and she sometimes has fits, so she's given up on school. Her younger brother Joey attends school and share what he learns with her. Joey is protective of Alice. So is the dog she calls bear, who stays mostly by her side. Alice has a particular talent she learned from her father - fly tying. She makes money from it, which helps as the small family has little - others call them trash.

Manny was adopted. He came from Sierra Leone where awful things were done to his family and he was forced to be a child soldier. He has continuing nightmares about his inability to save his sister and mother from rape and death. Manny is broken too. But then he starts to find the scraps of poems that Alice pins 'in places where people might stop and read'. They speak to him, so he seeks her out.

At the same time, Joey and a girl in ballet class enjoy each other's company. This is hard for Alice at first, but she grows to like and admire 'perfect tilda'. Others are less happy about it and threats are made. Matters escalate, along with gram's failing health and severe flooding that endangers lives. But by the end, Alice and Manny have shared - and faced - their worst memories together.

The Stars at Oktober Bend is an extraordinary story, enhanced by Alice's outpouring of poetry. Here's one of my favorites ... 'i am / a rooftop poet / high on haiku / silently shouting / sonnets to the stars / giving wings to / words giving wings to me / together we fly / my milky-way words / and i'. This book deserves a wide audience.

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