Oh my heart.
I was apprehensive about starting Where the Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vanderah, I think because I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about whatever the end result was going to be. I knew that it had the potential to touch on some very sensitive subject matter, and I wasn’t entirely sure my heart would be able to handle it.
But the story intrigued me so much, I had to give it a shot and overall I’m glad I did.
The story centers around Jo, who is a graduate student working towards her PhD and studying nesting birds. She’s renting a cabin for the summer in rural Illinois where she conducts her research. She’s also a recent cancer survivor, and has not long ago lost her mother to cancer as well. Then a little girl shows up at the cabin barefoot and covered in bruises, claiming she comes from the stars and is here on Earth until she witnesses 5 miracles and then she can return home to her planet. She calls herself Ursa.
Unsure what to do, and rightful concerned for the safety of this child, Jo allows Ursa to stay just until she learns more about the little girl’s past. She reaches out to her neighbor, Gabriel, and as they work to understand the mystery surrounding Ursa, the 3 of them form a bond.
This part from the back cover is the main reason (I think) why this book made me nervous: “As the summer nears an end and Ursa gets closer to her fifth miracle, her dangerous past closes in. When it finally catches up to them, all of their painful secrets will be forced into the open, and their fates will be left to the stars.”
Now, I’m sure you can connect the dots like constellations here, and it would be pretty hard to read things like “her dangerous past closes in” and “mysterious child…covered in bruises.” and not assume that there is a pretty good chance that this story might touch on the subject of child abuse. Whether that is abuse that has happened, or abuse that is assumed to have happened or anything along those lines. So I was a little nervous about the prospect of potentially facing that.
To be honest, I didn’t really know 100% what to expect. I wasn’t sure if the story was going to be fantasy or supernatural based with Ursa truly coming from the stars, or if it was more rooted in reality with her tale being a coping mechanism for something more sinister that had happened. Or a combination of both, or something else entirely! I won’t tell you what it ended up being but I will say it didn’t go the direction I started to believe it was going to go.
One of the things I really loved about this story was the relationship that forms between Jo, Gabriel and Ursa. I loved their conversations and the banter they’d engage in. The way they’d bicker and tease each other. I loved Ursa’s stubbornness and her curious mind. I loved how Jo was so unlike the typical type of female character we often get in stories. Gabriel (Gabe) too, actually, was very unlike the typical male character as well, and I really appreciated the details of his life and backstory. There were many heart wrenching, heavy moments, and just as many that were quiet and joyful.
I loved how it made me think: What would be the right thing to do in that situation? And what if the “right” thing isn’t possible – for any number of reasons. Can you fault people for doing the best they can in an impossible situation?
This story did a really interesting job dealing with some tough topics, like cancer as mentioned above and also mental health related stuff and various type of trauma.
I wasn’t extremely crazy about the ending. I felt like some of the details were resolved too neatly for my tastes, and in ways that didn’t exactly make sense. There were one specific instance of a character monologue that just fell a little flat for me which is unfortunate because I feel like it was meant to be a very emotional pivotal moment but it just didn’t have that effect on me personally. It just seemed a little awkward and unnatural. I imagined standing up in front of a group of people saying what the character was saying, or having someone in front of me repeating these same words and it just didn’t work for me. The rest of the story was so good though, that I really didn’t mind.
I would rate this story a 4.5 out of 5, only losing that half point because of the issues I had with the ending.
Have you read this book yet? What did you think? Leave me a comment and let me know.
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