In Sight of Stars by Gae Polisner

Sometimes I read YA fiction which takes me back to my own experiences of being teen-aged.  This is one of those novels.  The world is a complex place when we are teen-aged: we don’t (yet) have all the skills we need to make sense of it, and yet we often need to in order to survive.

While this is a novel for older teenagers, it’s also a novel for us (no longer young) adults.  Why?  Because I think it’s important sometimes to return to a version of the world we’ve left behind, to remember how black and white almost everything appeared to us in that world, and consider how the current version  of that world can appear to those currently inhabiting it.

The bad news is that you will need to wait until March 2018 to buy a copy.

‘There was a time when I felt happy and normal.’

Klee Alden is seventeen years old when the world he was comfortable in changes forever. His father, the centre of his universe, dies. He has committed suicide, and it is Klee who finds him. Klee (pronounced Clay) has explored New York City’s museums and art galleries with his father, learned about the lives and loves of great artists, experienced the magic his father could generate.

We meet Klee in a psychiatric hospital for teenagers. And, as we find out why Klee is in hospital, we learn about how his life changed after his father’s death and why Sarah, a girl he met in art class, has become so important to him.

I was deeply moved by this story. There are two main reasons for this. First, I had some experience myself as a teenager in a psychiatric institution and although that experience is over forty years ago, I remember trying (and failing for a long time) to make sense of what was happening. The world had shifted, and my place in it ceased to exist. Secondly, and more importantly, Ms Polisner takes Klee through the journey he needs to make in a way which felt so real (at least to me). Relearning how (and who) to trust, adjusting to medication, realizing that there is usually more than one reality (and certainly more than one view of it). Klee’s struggles are never trivialised, his views are not discounted. But he learns (as we all do if we survive the journey into adulthood) that our knowledge is often incomplete, our interpretations sometimes flawed.

Klee’s journey involves a number of different characters. We see each of them through Klee’s eyes, so our images are sometimes incomplete. I finished the novel hopeful that Klee would find a new ‘happy and normal’. I finished the novel knowing that I would be rereading it again at some stage. Why? Because there are several layers to Klee’s story, and I know that I’ve not yet absorbed them all.

This is Ms Polisner’s fourth published novel. I’ve enjoyed each of the three novels I’ve read (‘The Summer of Letting Go’ is still on my reading list). Ms Polisner has a gift for creating believable characters in challenging situations, the kind of fiction many young adults can relate to.

Note: Note: My thanks to NetGalley and St Martin’s Press for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith