The Star Outside My Window

Delacorte. Jan. 2021. 320p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780593302279.
Gr 3-7–Raúf (The Boy at the Back of the Class) returns with another story featuring a band of children undertaking a quixotic mission in tragic circumstances. Ten-year-old Aniyah and her little brother, Noah, are in foster care after fleeing with their mother from their abusive father. Traumatized by the outcome when their father finds them, Aniyah believes that her mother has been turned into a star and lo! A new star has appeared in the sky, skirting Earth’s atmosphere and baffling scientists. An astronomical naming competition is announced, and Aniyah teams up with Noah and her two new foster brothers to travel across southeast England to prevent the Royal Observatory from giving her star-mother the wrong name. They make an unspecifically diverse band: Aniyah describes her own brown skin, and one boy shares the same skin color as their presumably Nigerian-British foster mother, Mrs. Iwuchukwu. Aniyah’s naivete strains credulity, as she appears to believe that their father’s violent episodes were him “moving furniture,” their mother regularly got injured helping him, and she has now literally become a star defying the laws of physics. But the novel expects that readers of a similar age will see through these euphemisms and understand that Aniyah’s father abused and eventually murdered his wife. Raúf depicts a simplistic moral landscape—the cartoon villainy of a foster sister persists until the moment she becomes kind—and everyone else operates with good intentions throughout. The quest to the observatory feels like a stand-in for Aniyah processing her trauma, but the novel doesn’t quite succeed in depicting much psychological nuance for her or any of her unfailingly kind companions.
VERDICT Middle grade readers who enjoy moral certitude and implausible, heartfelt adventures will appreciate Raúf’s well-intentioned effort to address the issue of domestic violence.

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