“I need Owen to explain this. Because yes, I do know that Owen would never do that, but I also know Hannah would never lie about something like that.”
Mara and Owen are about as close as twins can get. So when Mara’s friend Hannah accuses Owen of rape, Mara doesn’t know what to think. Can the brother she loves really be guilty of such a violent crime? Torn between the family she loves and her own sense of right and wrong, Mara is feeling lost, and it doesn’t help that things have been strained with her ex-girlfriend and best friend since childhood, Charlie.
As Mara, Hannah, and Charlie navigate this new terrain, Mara must face a trauma from her own past and decide where Charlie fits in her future. With sensitivity and openness, this timely novel confronts the difficult questions surrounding consent, victim blaming, and sexual assault.
My Rating: ★★★★★– 5 stars
“This doesn’t make any sense. This isn’t…” This isn’t my brother, I want to say. He would’ve never hurt Hannah. But that would make Hannah a liar, and that’s not her either.
I’ve read so many reviews of this book, lauding it for how profound it was, but I never could’ve guessed at how truly heartbreaking it is. Girl Made of Stars is like a punch to the gut – it leaves you feeling winded, gasping for breath, and ready to cry all at once.
Just a note of warning: I do discuss sexual assault and rape in this review. I also include a list of content warnings at the bottom of the post, and reference some more complete ones.
Maybe he’s not a liar. Maybe I just need to trust him. Trust us.
The novel follows Mara, a girl whose world is upended when her twin brother Owen gets accused of rape. Mara is extremely close to Owen, and she doesn’t – can’t – think he’s capable of such a horrific act. But she can’t escape the thought that Owen just might be guilty. Her policy for always believing the survivor and her own loyalty and love for her brother are a constant source of conflict, and she can’t seem to escape the spiral of doubt that plagues her.
And not only that – the accuser is one of her best friends, Hannah. Mara knows Hannah, and she knows she wouldn’t ever lie about something as terrible as this. So her confusion in who to believe escalates.
What really made this novel so compelling was that it didn’t focus on the system that enables rapists to escape, though it was present throughout, in a number of ways:
This. This is why I never said anything.
Because no one ever believes the girl.
No, what made so compelling was that it focused on the aftermath. How Mara and everyone around her dealt with the rape – because that’s what it was, rape – was so heartrendingly human. Things got messy fast often – many times Mara would be fine and then she just wouldn’t be. Things would get to be too much and she’d find herself angry for seemingly no reason, and seeing her try to navigate these terrifying landscape of emotions really touched something in me.
And these events also force her to confront her own past sexual assault, which involved a teacher she trusted, Mr. Knoll. She struggles to come to terms with it and to try to talk about it with others throughout the book, the thought that no one will believe her constantly at her heels.
What else is there to do? What else is there for a girl to do, when everyone but her can just forget everything like a random bad dream?
Mara’s journey towards accepting that the assault changed her but didn’t necessarily break her, and that it is something she can talk about is so respectfully done and given the importance and nuance it deserves. And Hannah’s story is given the same treatment as well. It’s hard to read – I had to force myself through a few pages – but it’s so incredibly important. Hannah’s rape involved a lot of elements that would make many people dismiss it (and people in the book do dismiss it): she was Owen’s girlfriend, they had sex before, and the rape involved a condom.
But it boils down to rape because she did not want to have sex and he forced her to.
There is not another book I’ve read or heard of that has explored consent and done as good a job as this book, so though it will break your heart, it’s so important to read this.
And though the heavy topic present throughout the book and how it’s dealt with is certainly where this book shines, it’s also pulled forward by a wonderful cast of characters. Mara is a person you can genuinely root for, and her confusion and anger and loneliness is so painfully poignant. Charlie – Mara’s ex-girlfriend – is trying to be there for both Hannah and Mara. She’s nonbinary, but uses she/her pronouns. (She’s also described as having a voice that is the “love child of Adele and Halsey” and now I just really want to hear her sing.) Alex, Owen’s best friend, who Mara grows increasingly closer to over the course of the book, is struggling with his own disbelief. (I’m not a fan of him though, especially after that ending.) Hannah is…there aren’t words that can describe the sorrow I feel for her. People can be cruel and unrelenting, and I never hated humanity as much as I did when she first came back to school after the party.
Owen can frankly go die in a hole. But I can say that as a person who doesn’t know him, as someone who isn’t family. This book shows us how easy it is to say that when a rapist isn’t someone we know and love, and how hard it is to say when they are, which is what Mara faced. It’s something I’m still struggling to grasp because I hate anyone who could do that to someone else – take away their body, their choice – but I also now acknowledge that it’s harder to know what to feel or to even know what you’re feeling when you find out that someone you know is a rapist.
Girl Made of Stars is a novel that forces us to take a look at our world today and really peer underneath it. The issues it raises are so unbelievably important, especially in contemporary society, and it makes you think and consider, a rare feat many novels fail to accomplish. It is filled with hope, sadness, love, anger, and more, but at its core, Girl Made of Stars is about belief. It’s about believing the survivor, in the people around you, in your friends, and most importantly, believing in your worth. Because even in a world that refuses to hear our stories, we are worth our weight in gold, and nobody – nobody – gets to demean our voices, our stories, or our lives.
This may not be the book you wanted. In many ways, it was not the book I wanted. The book I wanted never had an Owen or a Mr. Knoll, and if it did, it had an Owen and a Mr. Knoll who paid justly for their crimes.
However, this is the book I needed, and I hope, in some ways it’s the book you needed too. This is the book that reminded me that despite a system and culture that is perpetually against us, that lets our oppressors go free, that disbelieves out words, there is hope. There is love. There is comfort. There is healing.
There is life after abuse. A good life. It’s not an easy one. It’s not an easy one. It’s not the same one we had before. But it is still ours. And nothing and no one will take it from us.
– Author’s Note
Content warnings for rape, sexual assault, pedophilia, panic attacks, victim blaming, sexism (addressed), and panic attacks. THIS IS NOT A COMPLETE LIST as I didn’t write everything down, so PLEASE CHECK Melanie @ Meltotheany’s review for a full list.