Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Review - A Handful of Stars

A Handful of Stars
by Cynthia Lord
Date: 2015
Publisher: Scholastic
Reading level: MG
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 192
Format: e-book
Source: library

When Lily's blind dog, Lucky, slips his collar and runs away across the wide-open blueberry barrens of eastern Maine, it's Salma Santiago who manages to catch him. Salma, the daughter of migrant workers, is in the small town with her family for the blueberry-picking season.

After their initial chance meeting, Salma and Lily bond over painting bee boxes for Lily's grandfather, and Salma's friendship transforms Lily's summer. But when Salma decides to run in the upcoming Blueberry Queen pageant, they'll have to face some tough truths about friendship and belonging. Should an outsider like Salma really participate in the pageant-and possibly win?

Set amongst the blueberry barrens and by the sea, this is a gorgeous new novel by Newbery Honor author Cynthia Lord that tackles themes of prejudice and friendship, loss and love.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This cute middle-grade book is a quick read.  Although it's short, it manages to pack quite a bit of story and character development into its pages.

Please, dear author, I want some more...

My favourite thing about this little book was that it taught me about places and things I didn't know much about.  The story is set in coastal Maine, near the wild blueberry barrens.  I learned a little about wild blueberry harvesting, migrant farm labour, and all the things you can do with wild blueberries.  The parts about mason bees were interesting, too; I'd never heard of these little blue bees, so having them figure prominently in the landscape of the story was kind of cool.

I thought Lily, Salma, and Hannah (all twelve years old) were pretty realistic.  In some middle-grade novels, characters in this age group are portrayed as either kind of stupid or unbelievably precocious.  I was relieved to find that that wasn't the case here.  Sure, they might not be as knowledgeable or as emotionally mature as adults, but they're learning as they go.  The author shows respect for this age group when she writes them as complex human beings.

It's all a matter of taste...

The only thing I didn't really like about this book was the whole issue of Lily's mother.  I didn't think there needed to be the secrecy surrounding the issue of what happened to her; it reminded me of other books that I've read that used the same sort of plot device, and I always felt kind of cheated when I found out the actual truth.  And, in this case, there wasn't really any reason for it.

Let's get technical...

The writing is pretty solid here.  Aside from a few typos in the last three or so chapters, there's not much to complain about.  The book is easy to read and flows nicely.

The verdict...

This turned out to be another one of my pleasant library surprises.  I'd never heard of it, and I wasn't sure it was my kind of book, but I enjoyed it anyway.  It might seem a little young for older readers, but it's a great story for middle graders; I wish it had been around when I was twelve!

Quotable moment:

"I think art can take ordinary things and show them to you like it's the first time you've ever seen them," she continued. "And you realize that even ordinary things aren't really ordinary at all."

Maybe that's true, I thought. Maybe when we see things all the time, we stop really looking at them. And it takes an artist, someone who can look past the ordinariness, to remind us how special they really are.

Premise: 4/5
Plot: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
Pace: 4/5
Writing: 4/5
Editing: 3/5
Originality: 3/5
Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall Rating: 3.75 out of 5 ladybugs


  1. Oooh, this sounds like a really sweet , short read. I'm usually irritated at middle grade-fiction, because the portray characters of this age as either extremely stupid, or unbelievable. As being almost a year older, I wanna put myself in their shoes and imagine the book properly.

    I loved reading your review :)

    Nirvana @ Quenching the Quill

    1. Yes, some middle-grade fiction can be very irritating if the characters aren't done right. If I'd read those sorts of books as an actual middle grader, I probably would've thought they were stupid because I couldn't relate to the characters.

  2. This looks interesting. I think an inherent flaw with a lot of MG books is that the characters don't sound like themselves, either older or younger. As someone who was 12 three years ago, and has a 12 year old brother, I can tell you a lot of MG book characters annoy me. Like the ones in Wonder. If I ever see this, maybe I'll check it out! Thanks :)

    1. I haven't read Wonder, but if it has annoying characters, I probably wouldn't like it. Thanks for the warning!

  3. BLUEBERRIES. I would like to try this one because BLUEBERRIES. (Okay they're not my favourite berry, but any book that centres around food has so much win for me.) I don't read a lot of MG, but I kind of want to. I like the incredibly good ones, particularly when the characters are realistic and not being super deluded. Gah. I was always a very serious kid who though a lot, so I never understand the boppy MG books where no one has any sense. XD

    1. That's why I liked the Ramona books, and why I still remember them fondly. Nearly everything that happened was realistic, and the characters' reactions to the events in the story were realistic, too. I always related to Ramona (even though I was the older sister of two, so maybe I should've related more to Beezus).

      Anyway, yeah. This book had pretty realistic characters (including a friend who'd suddenly gone boy crazy and wouldn't stop talking about this kid she liked... which I can totally see happening with 12-year-old girls!).

      And blueberries. I really wanted to eat some blueberries after finishing this book.