Author: Kate van Hooft
Publication Date: 27 June 2018
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Copy: Courtesy of the Publisher
We See The Stars is the debut novel of Kate van Hooft and I found it utterly captivating, and thought provoking. It was definitely a book that I needed to keep my wits about me a little because I had to try and keep up with what was happening and get my head around how things went together.
Simon is an eleven year old boy who doesn’t speak, hasn’t spoken in years, but he communicates non-verbally and interacts with those around him. He is different and that does make him a target at school. He is also our storyteller and that makes for some interesting reading. Simon is far from a reliable narrator and we’re never really sure what’s going on with him. The story takes place in a small country town but it’s never made clear when exactly. I think we are looking at some time in the early 1970s, which is a time when a lot less was known about the mind and behavioural disorders.
The whole of this story is told in Simon’s voice and through Simon’s eyes. Simon is not a reliable narrator, he experiences things very differently to the rest of us and he sees and hears things that the rest of us don’t. I say he’s an unreliable narrator but that didn’t make him an unbelievable or an unrealistic narrator which I think is quite an achievement.
Looking at Simon from where I’m sitting now, I would theorise that he has autism and his lack of speech is a post traumatic stress reaction. These are things that we know a lot more about now than we did before. Simon doesn’t really have any friends except his brother Davey, and Superman but no-one else can see him.
Simon is teased at school and because he doesn’t talk he just shrugs it off, until the day Cassie comes to find him in his quiet place away from everyone. She has had it pretty tough and struggles with friendships too so when Simon offers her a Vegemite vita-wheat an unlikely friendship is born.
Ms Hilcombe is the new teacher for Simon’s class and she shows a great empathy for Simon and his struggles. She is not put off by his silence and will sit quietly with him, offering suggestions and really seeing him; making an effort to try and get to know him. Thus sparking another friendship.
Being a small town it isn’t hard to discover where people live and in a move that is probably less than professional Ms Hilcombe invites Simon in when he finds his way to her house. Simon is very quiet and seems to have a stillness about him which can be quite unnerving, and see people share with him things that perhaps they shouldn’t and Ms Hilcombe is one of them. So when she goes missing Simon is sure he knows where she is, and he’s the only one who does. He promised that he wouldn’t tell anyone about a conversation they had so he has no-one to turn to for help finding her. He sets off all alone, late at night, determined to find her.
We See The Stars is Simon’s story and it’s told through the eyes of a misunderstood, mostly silent, boy who processes differently to the rest of us. He’s anxious, trying to put into practice the coping mechanisms he learned from his mum, whom is mostly absent from the story.
Nothing seems concrete in this story, I spent a lot of time trying to piece things together and work out why Simon is seeing things the way he does. He is behind at school, which didn’t surprise me, and it seems that there may have been times that he hasn’t been able to control outbursts. He has learned that counting can be a great method of calming himself though that doesn’t always work.
There are questions that I didn’t get answered and that really won’t ever be answered, though what I would really like is a companion novella or short story by one of the other characters that pieces it all together and tells us, from a different perspective, how it all turned out.
I quite liked Simon as a character and I loved the insight we were given into the way his mind worked and some of the things that went on for him. He cared deeply for those he was connected to and would do anything to help.
Cassie has a lot to face in her life so when she is missing from school for a couple of days Simon puts them both at risk by racing to her house to make sure she’s okay.
I enjoyed this debut from cover to cover, the characters are well drawn and the subject matter is interesting. My only real issue is the way that the story ended, we didn’t get a proper resolution and that is largely because we are looking through Simon’s eyes.
This is a beautiful debut that captures the voice of the narrator and shows great potential, it isn’t going to be an easy one to top I don’t think and I would certainly be interested in following the career of Kate van Hooft if she continues to explore children who have faced trauma in ways to similar to this.
A book that I would definitely recommend and I extend thanks to Allen & Unwin for allowing us to feature the book as a Beauty and Lace Book Club title.
We See The Stars is book #30 for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2018.