Title: A Glasshouse of Stars
Author: Shirley Marr
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Published: 4th May 2021
Synopsis: An exquisite, heartbreakingly beautiful gem of a novel for anyone who loved Wonder, Lenny’s Book of Everything, A Monster Calls or When You Reach Me.
‘Heart-twisting and hopeful, bursting with big feelings and gentle magic. This is a special book from a powerful, compassionate new voice in children’s literature, destined to be read and loved for generations and held close in many hearts (including mine).’ – Jessica Townsend, New York Times bestselling author of the Nevermoor series
Meixing Lim and her family have arrived at the New House in the New Land, inherited from First Uncle who died tragically and unexpectedly while picking oranges in the backyard. Everything is vast and unknown to Meixing and not in a good way, including the house she has dubbed Big Scary. She is embarrassed by the second-hand shoes given to her by the kind neighbours, has trouble understanding the language at school, and with fitting in and making new friends. Her solace is a glasshouse in the garden that inexplicably holds the sun and the moon and all the secrets of her memory and imagination.
Her fragile universe is rocked when tragedy strikes and Ma Ma refuses to face the world outside. Meixing finds herself trapped within the shrinking walls of Big Scary. Her parents said this would be a better life for them all, but it feels like the worst and most heart-breaking experience of Meixing’s entire existence. Surviving will take all the resilience and inner belief of this brave girl to turn their world around.
Meixing Lim and her family have arrived in the New Land, far away from their island home, which Meixing refers to as the Old Land, and New House is called Big Scary. As Meixing’s new life begins, the family is hit by tragedy, and Meixing must learn to look after herself and her mother whilst adapting to a new school, new people and a new language. Her struggle to make friends is apparent in her interactions with fellow classmates, and the way she narrates what happens, as though she’s not always quite sure exactly what is happening, but she’s also very observant, so she knows that something isn’t quite right, and she knows that many of the things happening around her and to her are not quite right.
Meixing is also caught between the traditions of her family, and the demands and adjustment to a new country. She’s expected to find a way to fit into both – and this is portrayed in a beautiful and touching way to explore how immigrants find a way to adapt to a new life in a new country, filled with new people who speak many different languages but also many speak the same language as a way to connect beyond their smaller social circles. Yet as Meixing starts to find her way in this new world, Ma Ma seems to be retreating. And Meixing must find a way to live within and between both worlds to help her family and live her new life.
This touching story about immigration, family and survival shows that there are a multitude of immigrant experiences within Australia – Shirley Marr shows us Kevin, Meixing and Josh in this novel, but specifically Meixing. There is a constant sense of uncertainty and fear about the new home, and being able to adapt, made worse for Meixing by the expectations that she will understand right away. I truly felt for Meixing. I wanted to reach out and help her with everything I could and be her friend. She was so sweet, and when she became friends with Josh and he helped her, I was overjoyed.
To help her cope with fake friendships at school from girls who act like they’re the victim when they’ve done the wrong thing, and everything else scary in her new life, Meixing imagines that the greenhouse is filled with magic and stars, and beautiful trees, and First Uncle, whose death preceded their arrival in this new place, and their new life in Big Scary. There is a sense of magical realism and suspension of belief in this book – and the power of imagination as a coping mechanism in a new life, where when you can imagine this magic, anything seems possible, and you can deal with your pain. This is contrasted with the expectations everyone else places upon Meixing, and I felt she was truly herself when she was in the glasshouse or with Josh and came into her confidence when she had to look after Ma Ma and took steps towards looking after their family in the best way she could. It is a story with a big heart, lots of love and evokes the power of community and friendship, and the big feelings we all have when things drastically change for us throughout our lives.
This poignant and beautiful story is sure to touch hearts, and move us, and make us think about how we treat those around us, and people new to our communities and our country.