Review: Stargazing for Beginners by Jenny McLachlan

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Details & Summary:

Title: Stargazing for Beginners
Author: Jenny McLachlan
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Release Date: April 6th 2017
Pages: 256

Science geek Meg is left to look after her little sister for ten days after her free-spirited mum leaves suddenly to follow up yet another of her Big Important Causes. But while Meg may understand how the universe was formed, baby Elsa is a complete mystery to her. And Mum’s disappearance has come at the worst time: Meg is desperate to win a competition to get the chance to visit NASA headquarters, but to do this she has to beat close rival Ed. Can Meg pull off this double life of caring for Elsa and following her own dreams? She’ll need a miracle of cosmic proportions …

My thoughts…

Meg is a typical fifteen year old geek: she’s incredibly smart, she loves space, and wants to be an astronaut, but she’s also shy and she doesn’t know how to talk to people her own age. What she knows is atoms and constellations and stars, not dresses and dances. Feeling like you’re not part of the same universe as your peers is definitely relatable. Everyone’s had that feeling before and it’s tough to deal with. But Meg doesn’t really see this as a problem, at least not in the beginning. At the start of the book, she’s perfectly happy with who she is. She has a mission (getting to Houston by winning the competition) and she won’t allow anyone to distract her.

“This is why I want to go to be an astronaut: life on Earth is way too complicated.”

But then chaos erupts when her Mum leaves for Myanmar and leaves Meg to take care of herself and her little sister Elsa. Suddenly, she’s faced with one challenge after another, from putting up a science show for kids to figuring out how to get her sister to sleep so she can work on her speech for the competition. McLachlan handled this part really well. Meg learns from her mistakes and she progresses as a character to the point where she’s a changed person at the end of the book. The biggest lessons Meg learns is that she doesn’t have to do everything by herself and that it’s okay to not be in control all the time. It’s okay to rely on her so-called Earth Team and make the best of every situation.

I think this is a strong message to send out to teenagers. More and more teenagers are struggling with trying to keep up with school while they have other pressing responsibilities such as sports or work at the weekend or looking after their siblings like Meg. But I think this book gives them hope and shows them that there are always people around to help you through tough times. Everyone has an Earth Team—you just have to find them and allow them to help you by opening up and sharing. It also shows that there are no silly or impossible dreams; everything is possible if you work hard and try your best.

“I’ve realised that space isn’t an escape from the chaos of human beings, it’s something I have because of the chaos of human beings.”

While I enjoyed the message of the book, I’m not okay with the fact that her Earth Team didn’t contain any responsible adults. There’s her Grandfather, yes, but he wasn’t capable of looking out for his grandchildren. And then there’s Meg’s Mum. The story starts with her leaving for Myanmar and leaving her fifteen-year-old daughter in charge of her three-year-old half-sister with virtually no money other than her grandfather’s leftover pension. Obviously, this is completely irresponsible.

What frustrated me most was the fact that it wasn’t made to be big deal. I’m sorry, but I’m not okay with that. If you’re a mother, you’re responsible for your children. You can’t just leave them for two weeks with your father (who’s not qualified to take care of them) and with no money and with no way for them to contact you (she left her phone at home). That’s just not acceptable. And when Meg (understandably) got angry with her Mum for leaving, her grandfather brushed it off by saying this was something she “had to” do. Basically, she couldn’t help it because she was “free-spirited”.

No. What she had to do was make sure her children were okay and take care of. It was completely selfish of her to leave. And, again, this wasn’t made to be a big deal. When Meg’s mum returns from Myanmar, everything is forgiven and it’s not even discussed. I think this sends out the wrong message to teenagers whose parents might be neglectful. I know this unfortunately happens all over the world, but still: when you’re a minor, it’s not your job or responsibility to take care of yourself or your sibling(s).

Stargazing for Beginners is a light, occasionally funny, and heartwarming read about a girl who desperately wants to go to space but who learns that Earth might not be such a bad place after all. While it shows that teenagers are smart, strong, and capable of handling many responsibilities, the adults are portrayed as neglectful, irresponsible, and often selfish. It served the story, but teenagers reading this book might get the impression adults (parents, teachers, grandparents, etc.) are unreliable and they must do everything on their own.

Rating

7 thoughts on “Review: Stargazing for Beginners by Jenny McLachlan

    • Thank you! Yes, it was definitely relatable and I get why the author chose to “get rid of” the parental figures but it’s tricky not to send out the wrong message. Or maybe I was just overanalyzing it because I had to write a review #bloggerproblems 😄

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Ohh lovely review, thank you so much for sharing this. I like the sound of this, and I also love how you mention that the character grew and changed through the story – I love a good character development. It makes me a bit sad / and quite mad as well to hear that the parents are portrayed as neglectful and really not caring :/

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, a good set of parents / parental figures are still hard to come by in YA fiction. I understand it from a story point of view (i.e. wanting teenagers to handle things on their own) but it’s still a shame we don’t see more good parents who’re present in their children’s lives

      Liked by 1 person

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