Aster’s Good, Right Things by Kate Gordon
Published by: Riveted Press|Yellow Brick Books
Date: 1 November 2020
When you read my thoughts on this book, you are probably going to think it sounds dark, but in reality, it isn’t as dark as it may seem.
It certainly is deep.
If you’ve been there, I feel like your experience of the story will be different from others that read it.
For tweens that read it, I feel like they will relate to the many and various aspects of the development of the story- loneliness, striving to be the very best, courage, growth, parental separation, friendship, loss and family.
What I love most is that it gives mental illness a voice in a way that tweens and teens will understand and relate to.
This book is an important one.
One that has been most impacting on me this year.
Aster’s Good, Right Things, is about a girl who attends a school for gifted children, but Aster doesn’t feel special at all. Each day she challenges herself to do a ‘good right thing’ which is setting herself the challenge of making someone else’s life better. No one knows about this and if she doesn’t do it she feels like everything will go wrong. Life changes when she meets Xavier and she feels more free than she ever has.
Aster is a very lovable character, and author Kate Gordon did so well bringing her to life. As I turned each page, I felt like I was walking alongside her. In a way, I was right beside her through every moment she experienced. From doing her ‘good right thing‘ each day and the heaviness of its representation to meeting Xavier and making another unlikely friendship, I was right there, watching on, feeling helpless but also celebrating the joys.
While Asters ‘good right things‘ were a hugely significant aspect of this book, I won’t spoil by going into them further as I feel they are part of the story that you need to discover for yourself. However, there were so many other vital parts that Kate brought to life.
I must have looked joyful, in that moment. I must have looked as if I had not one care in the world. But the thing was…The noise was still there. The biting monsters were still there. They never went away, properly. They were just waiting. But you wouldn’t know it, to look at me.
These words jumped out of the page at me when Aster bought them to life – the noise and the monsters are a great description, and life experience shows that mental illness can easily be hidden. For anyone that has had even the smallest glimpse into mental illness will understand where Aster is coming from. They will recognise the loneliness of living with it. Asters Good Right Things is a poignant book that I would have benefited from when I was 12 years old and the biting monsters challenged me.
It’s not sadness. Or numbness, like dad says he feels sometimes. It begins as a kind of creeping dread and a kind of mushrooming and a kind of tsunami of too much. And then the noise comes, and the monsters come, and they take over everything.
When Aster talks about her hiding days and says the words “Why Can’t anyone fix me?”
It’s relatable and heartbreaking. It felt like a priveledge having that part of Aster’s life shared with the reader, a place where no-one but her dad knew she had these days. It brought light to the secrecy that often shrouds mental health and family difficulties but it also showed how incredibly strong Aster is.
One of the most heartwarming parts of the book (yes there are more than one) is the friendship between Xavier and Aster.
It’s pretty special.
They get each other.
They don’t scare each other.
They know the there is no judgement between them.
It made me laugh. I hadn’t laughed in such a long time – my head felt all full of air.
When Xavier made Aster laugh like this, it helped cut through the more difficult moments in the book. It also made me feel like there was hope for both Aster and Xavier. Relief swept through me when Aster met Hollyhock, the sweet little bunny, Xavier’s bunny. I was even happier that she then met Xavier and had someone other than her dad and aunt that got her, that didn’t bully her and made her laugh. I feel that this part of the storyline will give children hope. Let them see that there is life on the other side of loneliness.
Freak. Mouse. Ghost.
Why are you so weird?
The bullying from the other children hurt.
It hurt Aster deeply.
I felt a deep sadness every time they didn’t understand her and called her such ugly names.
It also made me see just how ugly bullying is, and Kate brought this to life by showing us why one of the bullies acted this way. It didn’t make it right, but it did show that often the bully needs just as much care and attention as the person they are harming.
I was on edge for much of the story “waiting” to see what challenged Xavier because I knew something was coming, but it wasn’t what I expected. He is a character you come to love from the very first meeting and throughout I expected him to have some sort of physcial illness. Much further into the story when he says, “my brain becomes uncooperative” it all came together and I again felt sadness that a child had to experience the black hole of depression – fictional character or not. It reminds you that this is real life for many tweens/teens that don’t know what do with those feelings, and I would love to hear more of Xavier’s journey in a book about him. I think there are so many layers to him and that we have only just scratched the surface.
There are a lot of happy, fun and warm moments throughout the story, it isn’t all sadness. But, like I said at the beginning, my review might seem a little heavy, but what I want to do is bring to life the reality of childhood anxiety, depression, feelings of abandonment and so on… I think this is such an important book, one for all the children whose brains are uncooperative, and for all the adults who have been there and still live it.
What this book explores is very real, and I highly recommended it.
Thank you to Georgie Sweeting and Riveted Press for the opportunity to read and honestly review this book.