What else is there to do? What else is there for any girl to do, when everyone but her can forget everything like a random bad dream?
After breaking up with her girlfriend/best friend, Mara’s greatest comfort comes from her twin brother, Owen – until her best friend accuses him of rape, and Mara’s entire world is thrown into a whirlwind of confusion, heartbreak, and traumatic memories of her own.
Let me say, first of all, that this book is one of the most genuinely important things I have ever read in my life. The timing is perfect, with all of the sexual assault allegations filling the news media today, and it forces the reader to face a hard question: what do you do when someone you love is accused of rape?
→ mara ←
Mara is such a lovable narrator, and so many of her feelings and thoughts were so incredibly candid and believable that it felt like she was a real person. She struggles from anxiety and panic attacks (which, as a person with an anxiety disorder, I felt were represented incredibly well), as well as PTSD.
Watching Mara develop as she grows to listen to the victim and to consider that, just because she loves Owen, does not guarantee his innocence, was so incredibly sad but familiar. I, like many people, am ashamed to say that I have struggled at times in the past to believe a victim’s account of an incident because I simply don’t want to believe the individual in question could have done something so terrible. Mara shamelessly holds up a mirror for those times, before lighting a path leading to the realization that our loved ones are not always who we hope they will be.
Despite the time it takes her to come to terms with the accusations, Mara never strays from being a caring young woman who wants desperately to take care of her loved ones.
Some parts of me are gone. Some others have come alive, woken by the need to fight, to matter, to be heard. Some parts are wary, others angry, others heartbroken. But I’m still me. I’m still moving.
→ owen ←
We are shown so many complex sides of Owen that I feel the story makes even the reader uncertain of the outcome at times. Owen is such a widely liked character, and is painted in such a wholesome light, that in the beginning of the book, it seems hard to imagine him as having intentionally done it. As the story progresses, and as Mara begins to see things differently, we are shown other perspectives of Owen – some so condemning that, in an instant, his entire persona shifts. I thought this was masterful storytelling on Ashley’s part, and I loved how three-dimensional it made him.
Owen has always been loud and kind of crude with his friends, but that’s not who he is with me. With me, he’s a boy made of stars, soft and light and safe. He always has been.
→ hannah ←
Hannah is the innocent, sweet “hippie” of their friendship group, and she seems so wondrously in love with Owen that the segue into her accusations was downright jarring. Her likability only adds to the probability of her story, which realistically may make Mara’s choice mildly easier than it would have been if Hannah had been an unknown, random character, or even an unlikable person. She was so delightful, though, and her heartache over having to make claims against Owen absolutely wrecked me.
“I never got it before, you know? All the stories I’ve heard other women tell about how much shame there is in being the one it happens to. But there is. There’s this weight of responsibility, of… god, I don’t know. Of just existing.”
→ charlie ←
Beneath all of the rest of Mara’s story, we have her ex-girlfriend and childhood bestie, Charlie, who Mara has broken up with because she feels incapable of carrying on a healthy relationship after her trauma. Charlie is a solidly flawed character, but never in a damning light, even when she reacts less-than-perfectly to Mara’s painful history. She offers a terrific look into the life of a nonbinary character, and the struggles she faces in her daily life with her identity. (Obviously, as a cis-gendered woman, I can’t speak to the authenticity of this rep, so while I enjoyed it, I am always open to reading own-voice reviews on this aspect!)
“I’m not sure. Both? Neither? Something else altogether?”
→ bisexuality ←
While the book has an enjoyable range of diversity in its casting, the most prominent aspect of that diversity was Mara’s own bisexuality. Not only does she spend a sizable portion of the story struggling with her feelings for her ex-girlfriend, she also plays with the option of a male partner. I won’t spoil who the individual is, but it opens up some incredible conversations regarding consent, sex, and her openness to people regardless of gender identity or sexuality.
As a bi woman who is also less on the love for “two genders” end of the spectrum and more on the “two or moreidentities” end, I adored every moment of the bi rep in this book. Much like in Ashley’s last YA release, How to Make a Wish, she puts emotions and explanations into words that are so profound and resonating that they brought tears to my eyes. She doesn’t shy away from discussing the struggles that come with biphobia specifically, even from misunderstanding loved ones.
And hey, that’s more than a lot of kids get, especially in the South, where going out in public as a queer person can be like tiptoeing through a minefield.
→ other noteworthy topics ←
A few other things I wanted to touch on:
• In the beginning, we hear stories of how Mara and Owen’s mother considers herself a devout feminist, but as the story progresses, we see her gradually shift further away from her values in order to defend her son. This was such an incredibly candid view on how hard it can be for someone to admit that their loved ones have done something harmful, despite the morals they typically adhere to.
• Empowerment through sexuality is addressed in scenes where Mara chooses to dress in revealing clothing in order to draw attention away from another character’s pain; though her motives are wholesome, she finds that she loves the way the attention makes her feel, and makes a note that, when consent is given, being shown sexual attraction from other parties can be empowering and fun.
• In one scene, two characters are participating in some pretty heavy petting, and consent is directly asked for; one character even comments on how incredibly sexy and empowered she feels for being asked and saying “yes”. Later, consent is revoked during sexual activity, and the opposite party is immediately apologetic, understanding, and drops the issue. This is exactly the kind of consent discussion that YA books need!
→ final thoughts ←
I know this review is longer than my typical posts, but there are so many incredible and important moments in this story, and I’ve only shown you the tip of the iceberg. Ashley Herring Blake is doing work that most YA authors aren’t brave enough to carry out, and she is executing it flawlessly. She has earned herself a permanent spot on my favorite authors list, and I only hope that this release will get the attention it deserves. I hope with everything in me that you will take my words to heart and pre-order yourself a copy of Girl Made of Stars. You won’t regret it.
Content warnings: sexual assault, biphobia, homophobia, anxiety, depression, PTSD.
All quotes are taken from an unfinished ARC and may differ from final publication. Thank you so much to HMH Books for Young Readers for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review, and thank you so much to Ashley Herring Blake for doing such profound and important work in the YA literary field.