Children’s book of the week: Aster’s Good Right Things by Kate Gordon

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Our latest recommendation for young readers is a strong read for those who sometimes feel a little bit alone.

One of the areas that’s been heavily cut back on as newspapers and magazines trim their budgets in current times is reviews of books for young readers. As such, it’s getting trickier and trickier for authors of books for children and younger readers to get their work noticed. This weekly spot on the site is our attempt to do something about that. If you see a book you like here, please do spread the word. And who knows? We may see some of these stories on the big screen in the future.

After a year many of us would love to forget, it’s reasonable to only want to turn to light, uncomplicated reads. And we might logically think to comfort children with the same kind of entertainment. Sometimes, though, what people of all ages need is the reassurance that feeling bad, different or anxious is more common – more ‘normal’ – than they think. That they’re not alone, and that there is a way to thrive, even if some days are harder than others.

Aster’s Good Right Things isn’t a happy book. But it’s not a sad book either. It follows the often difficult, scary or upsetting day-to-day life of Aster, who attends a school for gifted children – but thinks if she were really that special, her mum wouldn’t have left. Each day, she looks for opportunities to do a ‘good, right thing’; it must help the other person without having a benefit for her, or everything will come off the rails. Her loving support network of her dad and Aunt Noni try to reassure her, but it’s hard for her to switch off the noise in her head. That is, until she meets Xavier, who’s dealing with mental noise of his own, and things start to feel a bit different.

Gordon’s world for Aster is richly authentic. She places just the right amount of emphasis on Aster’s coping strategies, while balancing them with broadly universal pressures of tween life: friendships, burgeoning crushes, seeing parents for the first time as adults with their own lives.

Aster has a diagnosis, but it’s not specifically revealed, which means there’s plenty of room to relate to different behaviours. As well as Xavier and his ‘black dog’, there’s Indigo Michaels, whose chaotic home life is a recipe for distress and acting out – something that pushes other children away, but draws ultra-empathetic Aster near. 

It’s a book about dealing with ups and downs, and with the people that enrich us and the people that disappoint us. It’s about building your family out of the ones you can be honest with, even if you’re still scared. It brings hope and heart without pat conclusions or promises of cures. At a time like this, some children will be looking for the message that the circumstances don’t have to be neat, tidy or resolved to find a way to live a good life.

And that’s exactly what they’ll get from this book.

Reading age: 8-11 (middle grade)
Publisher: Yellow Brick Books
Release date: Out now
Further details and ordering

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