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[Review] And The Stars Were Burning Brightly by Danielle Jawando

'And the Stars' written over a bright purple grainy background

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TW: This title contains depictions of suicide.

When 15-year-old Nathan discovers that his older brother Al, has taken his own life, his whole world is torn apart. Al was special. Al was talented. Al was full of passion and light - so why did he do it? Convinced that his brother was in trouble, Nathan decides to retrace Al's footsteps. As he does, he meets Megan, Al's former classmate, who is as determined as Nathan to keep Al's memory alive. Together they start seeking answers, but will either of them be able to handle the truth about Al's death when they eventually discover what happened?

Jawando's writing is stunning - raw, lyrical and overwhelming emotional. It's so powerful and beautiful in the way that just captures grief so completely and accurately. Jawando just seems to understand the complexity, messiness and differing reactions grief brings to people. She is definitely an author to keep your eye on.

The story is told through two distinctive narratives - Nathan and Megan. Here Jawando showed off brilliant character growth, as both characters stumble through the dark fog of grief to try and make sense of a world that no longer has Al in it. They're flawed, complex characters trying to heal, which is of course a messy path and isn't complete by the end of the book, but it's an ongoing process. Both of them struck such a chord with me and have truly heart-breaking moments that punched me in the gut. Yet, this is ultimately a story of hope.

Discovering the truth behind Al's struggle is horrendous to read and there's a graphic scene where Nathan discovers his body that destroyed me. What makes it worse is that this is reality for so many people, with bullying still being a huge problem and making many people's lives living hells. We need to shout about bullying and mental health because it leads to tragic stories like Al's if we just ignore it.

Truly, this book lives up its name and burns bright with stunning writing and an intensity that means I won't be forgetting it any time soon.

This reivew is by volunteer YA reviewer Emily Mitchell.