Title: These Unlucky Stars
Author: Gillian McDunn
Published: 28th September 2021
Synopsis: Ever since her mother left a few years ago, Annie has felt like the odd one out in her family. Her dad and brother are practical and organised – they just don’t understand the way she thinks, in lines and color. Everywhere she turns, she feels like an outsider, even at school, so she’s been reluctant to get close to anyone.
When a “Ding-Dong-Ditch” attempt goes wrong, Annie finds herself stuck making amends with Gloria, the eccentric elderly lady she disturbed. As she begins to connect with Gloria and her weird little dog, it becomes clear that Gloria won’t be able to live on her own for much longer. But it’s this brief and important friendship that gives Annie the confidence to let people in, and see how rich life can be when you decide to make your own luck and chart your own path to happiness.
In this heartwarming novel, acclaimed author Gillian McDunn shows us that even the most unexpected friendship has the power to change us forever.
Annie Logan feels alone – she has no friends, her mother left her years ago, and she feels like her father and brother don’t understand her at all. She loves her art and mountains, struggles with group work (don’t we all?), and wishes her mum would come home so she doesn’t feel so alone, and like she doesn’t belong with her family. School is ending for the year, and some of the older kids convince her to play a game of Ding Dong Ditch – yet when she does, something goes wrong, and Annie must now spend her summer helping Gloria, an old lady, as well as helping plan Oak Ridge’s new Rosy Maple Moth Festival.
Annie struggles to let people in and see how something like her mother leaving has affected those around her, yet when she meets Gloria and starts to spend time with her and finds out more about her, she begins to see the value in friendship and letting people in – and even begins to get to know a girl around her age, Faith, who is also struggling. Annie feels she is unlucky – born under an unlucky star, she’s been told by her mother. And so, Annie believes that she is unlucky – and that bad things are always going to happen to her and nobody else.
Annie’s story is about self-discovery and growth – and at first, she does come across as selfish, yet as she grows across the novel, we get an insight as to why, and the revelations at the end of the novel, and her learning to connect with people and make friends – and learn that sometimes we make our own luck. It’s set in a very small town in the USA that in some ways reminded me a little of Stars Hollow in Gilmore Girls, but maybe a little less quirky, but with as much character and desire to celebrate anything and everything as Stars Hollow – which was the charming thing about the town and its quirky residents. In this novel however, we have a character who is insular and not that involved in the town, and who has a journey she must go on to find out more about herself.
This gentle book set in contemporary times does away with the pandemic and focuses on the familiar, on a small town that needs to grow and come together, paralleling Annie’s journey as she learns to accept herself, friendship, and everyone around her learns to appreciate her art and see that she’s not so little. Annie feels left out of many things – which might be something common for lots of kids, and for those kids, she illustrates what this isolation can feel like. In steering clear of the pandemic, it also allows us to experience a place in our own timeline where the current concerns are not dealt with, where the characters can focus on different aspects of their lives. At the same time, there’s no distinct time in this novel, so perhaps in a way it is kind of timeless and allows us to understand a world that might be a few years ago as well and experience a world we may not be familiar with.
As a gentle novel, it is in some ways comforting and in others, allows people to understand what people like Annie feel and go through. It shows that it is okay to have lots of different interests and talents, and that letting people in and having friends is one of the best things ever.