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 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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….

  4. ‘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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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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