BOOK CLUB: We See The Stars

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Author: Kate van Hooft
ISBN: 978-1-76063-252-6
RRP: $29.99
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.

Kate van Hooft can be followed on Facebook and her Website.

We See The Stars is published by Allen & Unwin and is available now through Angus & Robertson Bookworld, Booktopia and where all good books are sold.

Thanks to Allen & Unwin 20 of our Beauty and Lace Club Members will be reading We See The Stars so please be aware there may be spoilers in the comments below.

19 thoughts on “BOOK CLUB: We See The Stars

  1. Thank you for the opportunity to read and review “we see stars” a debut novel by Kate Hooft. The author is a professional in the disability and education sector. She is passionate about Youth Mental Health. The book is written in the first person, by a young boy, Simon. He rarely speaks, his only friend is his brother and we only get the story from him perspective.
    I assume he is on the Autism Spectrum. Reading the book I was unsure how much of the story was real and how much was only in his mind. I found this disjointing. I was wanting to know “Why” So many questions were unanswered. What really happened to his mother? Why was Cassie’s mother not reported to Human Services? Did Ms Hilcome disappear?
    I think the novel showed some insights into the mind of a person who views the world differently.
    I did not enjoy the book. I read it over a weekend, hoping that the story would improve. I think that maybe, because the author works in the Mental Health field, she assumed readers knowledge, where I would have benefitted from more detail.
    Perhaps it would have benefitted from a parallel story from another perspective, perhaps the grandmother’s.

  2. Thankyou Beautyandlace and Allen&Unwin for the opportunity to review ‘We See The Stars’ by Kate Van Hooft.
    This book is the first written by Kate and is gripping!
    Eleven year old Simon growing up in small town Australia, an outcast at school he refuses to talk, although he can. Internal struggles, accompany him, he feels Superman by his side, he imagines birds in his chest and honeycombs of swarming bees, he lives in his own little world.
    His younger brother Davey is very supportive.
    Their grandmother looks after the boys when their dad is unable to because their mother has died.
    It follows his first day at school where his teacher Ms Hilcomb takes a shine to Simon and him to her. At school Simon is befriended by Cassie also not accepted by others because of a deformed hand and a real attitude!
    Simon has episodes of rage which he manages to suppress through coping ideas he has learned from his mother. He becomes agitated and upset when the town learns that Ms Hilcombe is missing…….

    I am hoping there will be a sequel to this story that will answer many questions that I’d like to know the answers to. A great story and interesting characters I enjoyed the read.

  3. A beautifully crafted story written from the perspective of a child who lives in his own little world very different to what we understand as “normal”. I generally like well organised plots with conclusions which draw all pieces together so the ending of this story initially left me struggling with a few questions. Perhaps I was hoping for answers to “what was real” .Upon reflection I feel that given the fact that the whole story is written from within Simon,s world it is really a suitable and very beautiful ending. Kate Van Hooft has shown amazing sensitivity and insight into mental health and trauma issues. Thank you for the opportunity to review this amazing book.

  4. So I have to be honest, it took me a couple of chapters to really get into this book, but when I did I absolutely loved it!
    Simon’s perspective on the world is both intriguing and eyeopening. I loved his developing friendship with Cassie and his School Teacher and was saddened by his family situation which hinted at infidelity, loss and depression.
    Will Simon find his missing teacher with the help of his new friend? or is it all in his mind? The final pages do leave you with more questions than answers (which I did find slightly frustrating) but all in all a wonderful journey through the eyes of a young misunderstood brave boy.

  5. I absolutely loved this debut novel by Kate Van Hooft, I was really looking forward to reading it from the blurb, and it didn’t disappoint.

    The story is seen through the eyes of Simon, an 11 year old boy who has not spoken for many years and lives in his own super sensory world. At no point is a diagnosis given but it can be construed that Simon is on the Autism Spectrum with a high level of synaesthesia (a neurological trait or condition that results in a joining or merging of senses that aren’t normally connected. The stimulation of one sense causes an involuntary reaction in one or more of the other senses. For example, someone with synaesthesia may hear colour or see sound).

    It appears that Simon’s mum avoided getting a diagnosis for Simon, perhaps from a fear that he would be prevented from attending mainstream education. His Grandma takes him to see a specialist behind his parents back and the description of Simon’s confusion when asked to point to which facial expression describes him is heartbreaking.

    Being different makes Simon a target at school and his only friends are his younger brother Davey, and Superman, who only he can see.

    Then a new teacher arrives, Ms Hilcombe, who seems to really take an interest in Simon and want to understand him (as evidenced by the books she is seen to borrow from the library). When the class is set a partnered project Ms Hilcombe pairs Simon with Cassie, the only other child in the class who sits at a single not a double desk. Cassie has her own issues, at some point it appears that she has been badly burnt leaving her with a deformed and discoloured hand and, as Simon discovers when he goes to Cassie’s place in the holidays to work on the project, a mother who is pathologically paranoid about Cassie having any interaction with boys.

    When Ms Hilcombe goes missing, Simon knows where she is, but he’s promised not to tell, so the only thing he can do is try to find her himself, with the help of Superman and Arnold (and you’ll have to read the book to find out who Arnold is!).

    Although the time and place is not specified I would hazard a guess that We See The Stars is set in the early to mid 1970’s, cars have bench seats and no seat belts, kids play by spinning on the Hill’s Hoist in the back garden, the children’s project is set about the Vietnam war, and the local library has newspapers with articles on the war, and domestic violence and PTSD are neither acknowledged or understood.

    We see the stars is a brilliantly written book from the eyes of a child who experiences the world “differently..” Characters are beautifully developed and the storyline rings true for the period. The description of experiencing a severe asthma attack is brilliant and from my perspective the ending is just perfect. If you can allow yourself to suspend how you see the world and allow yourself to see the world through Simon’s eyes then it all makes sense.

    Thank you so much to Beauty and Lace and Allen and Unwin for the opportunity to read and review this book, I give it 5 stars.

  6. Thank you to Allen & Unwin and Beauty and Lace Book Club for the opportunity to read We See the Stars, a debut novel from Kate Van Hooft.
    The main character of this novel, and the character through whose eyes (or imagination) we discover the story, is Simon – an eleven year old boy living in a country town in the 1970s. Simon is an anxious child and while we’re not told directly what his health issues are he does appear to have Autistic type tendencies. For much of the story he doesn’t talk, not because he can’t but it seems due to trauma. He is a lonely boy who has lost his Mum and is cared for by his Grandma and Dad. The author describes Simon’s internal feelings and how they affect his body beautifully, often using the imagery of bees and honey, although at times this becomes a bit repetitive, which is not surprising given Simon’s possible autism. This book really reminded me of The Eye of the Sheep by Sofie Laguna, and that’s not a bad thing.
    One of my favourite parts of this novel was Simon’s relationship with Cassie, another troubled, and physically damaged child. I would like to have learnt more about her story.
    As the story progresses it does get a little confusing as to what is actually happening or what is Simon’s imagination, he seems surrounded by people and animals who might not actually exist. I found the ending a little disappointing, I was unsure what had actually happened, perhaps the author has deliberately left it to the reader to make up their own mind.
    I did enjoy the book and will keep an eye out for future novels from Kate Van Hooft.

  7. Thanks to Beauty and Lace and Allen & Unwin for the chance to read and review “We See the Stars”. This is a powerful first novel from Kate van Hooft. It is evident that Kate has a background in Disability Services with the empathy that come through for the main character Simon
    This book is set in Australia in the 70’s. It centres on and is told by Simon, an 11 year old non verbal boy. Australia back then was a different place. It is evident that domestic violence and autism were not supported as much as they are today
    Through Simon’s eyes we see his relationships with Cassie (an unlikely friend), his family and his teacher Ms Hilcombe. Simon sees things in a different way and this is beautifully portrayed by the author.
    This is a poignant debut novel. It brilliantly shows how different people see the world. The ending will leave you with many unanswered questions. A novel that will open your eyes and hopefully help you embrace the differences of others

  8. Loved it! Thanks Beauty and Lace for the chance to read this really special book. My copy from Allen & Unwin only just arrived with a big sticker that says read it, love it and it was true, I have devoured the story. My only jitter is that I did not like the first chapter, it is there for the hook of course that this eleven year old boy with “superman” and ghost old man are travelling to save his missing teacher, but I found it just a bit crunchy as a start. Once I got going though on the rest of the story I liked the writing a lot and discovering step by step the family characters through the eyes of Simon, with his angries and issues. You learn about the stresses of the other family members trying to connect with Simon, and these are understated so you can find your own way. It is so touching as he starts to make friends and things change. No spoilers but a sophisticated story, and end. Highly recommend. 5/5

  9. Thankyou as always to Beauty and Lace and Allen and Unwin for the opportunity to read this book, We see the stars by Kate van Hooft.

    I was very excited to read this book, as I liked the cover and thought the blurb sounded very engaging and interesting.
    But, honestly that’s where my enjoyment ended.

    The story was told from Simon’s point of view— a teenager who clearly had some sort of sensory issues. Simon was quite the loner until he gets to know Cassie. Cassie and Simon then become quite close, joining forces to help Cassie away from her mum, and to look for Ms Hilcombe when she goes missing.
    I liked their friendship, I thought it was great for Simon, just what he needed.

    I found that I just couldn’t get Into this book. Apart from liking the friendship between Simon and Cassie, I found the book to be quite boring and dragged out and there did not seem to be any real storyline.

    I still do not understand the ending. I finished the book late one night, so I reread the last few chapters again the next day and still didn’t understand. So I turned to goodreads and found that no one there seemed to have an explanation either for what happened at the end.. Was Ms Hilcombe Alive? What happened to Simons mum? For me I feel like these important questions were left unanswered.
    I found it confusing and disappointed and I was dissatisfied overall with this book.
    Sorry to say, but I wouldn’t read any other books by Kate, as they are clearly not for me.

  10. I was really looking forward to reading We See the Stars and I was not disappointed. What a refreshing, unique and interesting book. This is the most original book I have read for a long time with a fascinating insight into the perspective of others – in this case Simon. I loved the gentle way the story unfolded and the background of 1970s rural Australia.

    An absorbing and thought provoking novel I would highly recommend. I can’t wait to see what Kate van Hooft tackles next. Thanks to Allen and Unwin and of course the fabulous Beauty and Lace book club for the chance to read and review We See The Stars.

  11. Thank you to Beauty and Lace and Allen and Unwin Publishers for the opportunity to read We See the Stars by Kate Van Hooft. I have debated on how to review this book. Kate Van Hooft’s description & insight into the main character of Simon and his conditions was well written and very thought provoking. But in my opinion the “incompleteness” of some aspects of the story and the fact that I am still unsure what was “fact or fiction” has left me with more questions than answers and has left me unsettled even at the conclusion of this novel. Regardless, I think that I will wait some time and take the time to re-read this novel to determine if on a second reading I may have missed “key points” which may be the reason why I have been left unsettled by the book.

  12. I overall enjoyed this novel. I found I had to keep my wits about me and sometimes e-read sentences and stop and think about it to try and understand what I was reading. I loved the comparisons and descriptions throughout this novel. I thought Simon was wonderfully written.
    I did however feel that there was some things left incomplete. I’m not sure if that was the authors intention or not, but I found myself wanting answers and even resorted to googling other reviews to see others interpretations of what I couldn’t quite make out.
    This was definitely a hauntingly mysterious novel, with a touch of supernatural qualities.
    The ending left me a little disappointed as I felt there could of been more to it, and wished it was a little more expanded.
    Overall a fantastic novel and would recommend to someone who wanted a haunting read and an insight into to the mind of a young child with a traumatic past.

  13. Thank you for the opportunity to read and review Kate Van Hooft’s debut novel ‘We see the Stars’. I was intrigued by the blurb and loved the over but found it took me a couple of chapters to work out the narrative and the whole book kept me feeling a little unsettled and confused.

    Kate did an amazing job of portraying Simon the central character. Simon is virtually non-verbal but has an amazing internal dialogue constantly playing in his head. It is an unique opportunity to get an insight into the thoughts and feelings of this special 11 year old.

    The story covers the complicated relationships Simon has with his family, at school, with Cassie (another social outcast at school) and with a new teacher to the school. It hints at the circumstances of which may have contributed to Simon’s silence but doesn’t really provide any solid answers and it is hard to know whether that it intentional by the author to reflect Simon’s confusion.

    I enjoyed watching the friendship between Simon and Cassie blossom.

    The book left a lot of unanswered questions and I was left wanting more….

  14. ‘We see the stars’ centres around the main character Simon, a young mute boy who has trouble making friends & only really mixes with his brother Davey & his invisible buddy Superman.

    I quite liked the writing style of this book, I found it very nostalgic and Australian. I assumed the story to be set late 60’s early 70’s as they mention post Vietnam war references but it doesn’t actually say anywhere the date as such.

    Simon’s kind school teacher develops an interest in him & when she disappears, he may hold the key to what happened to her, but his lack of communication means others may never learn the truth.

    Kate Van Hooft has portrayed the special needs of Simon in a fitting and sensitive way, I suspect her personal background in the disability sector would have helped.

    I’d give ‘We See The Stars a 3.5/5″, a good read overall.

  15. This book is stunningly written from the point of view of the main character Simon.
    so many things have happened in Simons world to cause trauma, but he processes his world in a unique way. His story unfolds slowly and delicately and sometimes a little confusingly. I felt this reflects Simons inner world really well. It’s such a different style of writing, I found it very enjoyable, it tested me as a reader, and as a person. I found the secondary characters interesting, loved Cassie, Simon’s first real friend other than his brother. Another child with a sad story an absent father and an abusive angry mother, Cassie is a strong girl who sees past Simons “weirdness” and enjoys his company. His teacher was another lovely character who also saw him and was trying to help gently.I found the wordless characters like mum and grandpa really intriguing too.

  16. I was looking forward to this book but after starting it I had mixed feelings while reading this book and found it hard at first to grasp what was going on as the story was a little confusing. I really wanted more of a back story and further on the other characters, but understand that the story was from a child Simon’s perspective. I was also a little disappointed in the ending. Thank you to Allen & Unwin and Beauty and Lace for giving me a chance to read this book.

  17. The story intrigued me from the blurb and my own experiences of working with children with autism. The author captured the characters well but at times I felt a little lost and the flow of the story didn’t go as smoothly as I would have liked. Overall a good story with interesting characters and worth a read.

  18. We See The Star’s is a beautifully written story from the perspective of a boy named Simon who is Autistic. Powerful and moving, it is definitely worth the read if this helps shed light from what it is like from the inside, looking out. At times though I did feel a bit lost and left confused.
    The ending is left pretty wide open which just left me asking more questions, so that was disappointing for me. Otherwise this is a pretty amazing debut novel!
    Thank you Allen and Unwin and Beauty and Lace for the opportunity of reading We See The Star’s!

  19. We See the Stars is a very touching novel involving friendship and loss. Simon is a very sweet, lovely boy, and my heart ached for him throughout the novel. All of the characters affected me in different ways – the sweet Ms Hilcombe, the angry yet lovable Cassie. I adore them all. The story is very well written, very descriptive, and an absolute joy to read.

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