The Weight of the Stars, K. Ancrum (Imprint 978-1-250-10163-1, $18.99, 375pp, hc) March 2019.
It is impossible for me to review K. Ancrum’s The Weight of the Stars without first mentioning Seanan McGuire’s stunner of a blurb. She wrote: “This book is starlight on broken concrete, it’s flowers on a broken rooftop, and it’s a masterpiece.” If you are a fan of McGuire (and good God, why wouldn’t you be?) then that blurb is going to send you out of your seat and running to the nearest bookstore to order Ancrum’s outstanding book. It’s not hyperbole, and it’s not exaggeration: The Weight of the Stars is a killer book, a science fiction story set mostly on Earth that will stir your spirit and make you believe that everything in this beat-up world really can be okay.
Ryann Bird has big dreams about space travel and knows the harsh realities about survival on Earth. Doggedly hanging in there with high school, she and her brother and his baby boy live alone in a rundown trailer park where they hang on to life by their fingernails. Ryann leads a pack of teen misfits at school, each of whom is struggling with their own issues. They are a motley band of survivors who cling to each other through adventures large and small, and when new student Alexandria arrives with some unique personal baggage, a caring teacher suggests Ryann reach out to her as well. Ryann is happy to do so, but Alexandria is a tough nut to crack. Pushing harder than they should, Ryann and her friends stumble onto the new kid’s explosive secret and accidentally cause her physical harm. During the ensuing recovery, the girls begin to slowly, painfully bond. (Seriously, nothing about this is “we saw each other, fell in love, and everything was immediately fabulous.”) Alexandria grudgingly acknowledges that she needs the group’s help to get answers about her astronaut mother, and the other kids rise to the occasion. (This involves breaking and entering, but these guys are willing to do whatever they have to do.) Then there is another reveal and a happy surprise and a resoundingly good ending.
It’s all very “near future coming-of-age,” which sounds glib but most certainly is not. These are great characters and Alexandria’s secret is intense and the adults are varying degrees of obtuse to useless and RYANN IS AWESOME. From throwing a punch to protect a friend, to helping catch radio signals on the roof, Ryann is going to get things done. Her strength, fragile though it may sometimes be, is a thing of beauty and Ancrum’s creation of this character makes her a star for YA literature.
The Weight of the Stars owes a hat tip to Contact (I am an unabashed fan) with a nod as well to all those stories about a band of teens who come together to fearlessly help a friend. The kids here are dealing with a lot, however, and Ancrum pulls no punches as she delves into just how tough life is for Ryann and the others. But the love shines through as well – love between Ryann and her brother James, the love they have for baby Charlie, and the love that is shared between the friends. The most perilous journey to love is that between Ryann and Alexandria, but when they get there, readers will cheer. There are so many big joys in this novel and so many big smart moments; it really is a gorgeous masterpiece and it better be front and center during award time.
Colleen Mondor, Contributing Editor, is a writer, historian, and reviewer who co-owns an aircraft leasing company with her husband. She is the author of “The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska” and reviews regularly for the ALA’s Booklist. Currently at work on a book about the 1932 Mt. McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition, she and her family reside in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. More info can be found on her website: www.colleenmondor.com.
This review and more like it in the September 2019 issue of Locus.
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