Title: Gus and the Starlight
Author: Victoria Carless
Publisher: HarperCollins Australia
Published: 4th May 2022
Synopsis: A spine-tingling and heart-warming story about friendship and finding your special place in the world.
Gus doesn’t want to make friends. She also doesn’t want to be intrigued by the cat-lady teacher at her new school, or the Riley’s Comet project that she and her seaweed-eating science partner are working on together.
And she definitely doesn’t want to fall in love with her job as the projectionist at the Starlight, a drive-in movie theatre that her family is reviving.
Because, knowing Gus’s luck, she and her family could be moving on in a day, or a week, or a month. When the ghosts that haunt Mum catch up with them. Or if the Starlight doesn’t succeed.
Then she’ll have to say goodbye. Again.
And saying goodbye is too hard.
Gus Able and her family – her mother, her sister, Alice, and her brother, Artie – are running away again. Her mother is hiding from Troy, who has been taking advantage of her talents. She drags them all the way to a town in the north called Calvary, where she is set to run the old drive-in movie theatre and dry cleaning – the Starlight, and the Moonlight café attached to it. A new beginning, she says. But Gus knows it’s not going to last. So she doesn’t want to make friends, doesn’t want to try at school, because she knows they’ll be off as soon as she does. Yet they’re set the seemingly insurmountable task of restoring the Starlight as ghosts pop in and out, and Gus feels like everything is going to catch up with them anytime, and that the woman they’re working for is up to something – indeed, I found the Miss Cronk character very unsettling at times, which is probably what Victoria intended, and it was done very well, with all her emphasis on certain words, it felt as though she was always hinting at something, but you could never be quite sure what.
I loved this novel and its heart – it captured a family experience that so many must go through, and the strain of constantly saying goodbye, of never being settled. The story was evocative, and filled with ghostly presences (and some not-so-ghostly presences), which gave it a haunting and ethereal feel, but I don’t think it was scary. Just contemplative and thoughtful when it came to the world of ghosts and the sinister goings on with Miss Cronk – I didn’t trust her right from when she first appeared – she seemed too perfect and too enthusiastic, and I think Gus felt the same way! The story is an ode to traditions and new beginnings, to finding your way and uncovering new talents as well, and I think allowing Gus to tell the story captured this perfectly and allowed her voice to shine through as the experience and storyteller that we needed to meet.
Gus and the Starlight combines several worlds: the world of science and comets, the modern world, and a harkening back to a time of the drive-in, and as Gus and her family reinvigorate the old theatre, I kept hoping they’d bring it back to life and everything would be okay – even if they had to face a few hiccups along the way. It is an exquisite novel where several worlds and experiences come together to create something unique and moving, that has a distinct sense of time, place, nostalgia, and family – everything coming together to create a community and new life for Gus and her family. It is the kind of book that takes you on a very special and unique journey about life, death, family, and community – because family and community are at the heart of this story. It is a novel that is comforting and thought-provoking, with a mystery at its heart about the theatre and ghosts. It is one that I fell in love with and never wanted to end, but at the same time, found myself devouring it because I wanted answers to my questions.
Another great middle grade novel that I hope will find fans.