A Glasshouse of Stars


Publication Date: 4 May 2021
Format: Paperback / softback

ISBN 9781760899547

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    Meixing Lim and her family have arrived at the New House in the New Land, inherited from First Uncle who died tragically and unexpectedly while picking oranges in the backyard.

    Everything is vast and unknown to Meixing and not in a good way, including the house she has dubbed Big Scary. She is embarrassed by the second-hand shoes given to her by the kind neighbours, has trouble understanding the language at school and with fitting in and making new friends. Her solace is a glasshouse in the garden that inexplicably holds the sun and the moon and all the secrets of her memory and imagination.

    Her fragile universe is rocked when tragedy strikes and Ma Ma refuses to face the world outside. Meixing finds herself trapped within the shrinking walls of Big Scary. Her parents said this would be a better life for them all, but it feels like the worst and most heart-breaking experience of Meixing’s entire existence.

    Surviving will take all the resilience and inner belief of this brave girl to turn their world around.

    Information

    Book Type:
    Age Group: 10 to 14 years
    Traffic Lights: Green/Amber
    Class Novel: Yes
    Good Reads Rating: 5/5
    Literary Rating: 5/5

    Review

    Meixing’s first uncle had planned to invite her family to live with him in Australia. But he dies of a heart attack and leaves the house to them in his will.

    Meixing, her father, and her pregnant mother move into his house and start the difficult process of adjusting to a new culture. Though there is kindness around them—like the support of their neighbour Mrs. Huynh—times are tough.

    Meixing is terrified of their new house, which she’s called Big Scary. She’s certain the house can shift and move on a whim. At work, Meixing’s father is being bullied. At school, Meixing’s grandmother’s ring is stolen from her by a classmate—and though Mrs. Huynh’s son Kevin tries to defend her, Meixing is too scared to speak up.

    When Meixing’s father is tragically killed in a car accident, her aunts stay with them for the funeral. Following their return home, her mother falls into a deep depression.

    Meixing’s refuge is the greenhouse out back where her uncle used to grow orange trees. She goes there to imagine better things. She imagines talking to her uncle and dreams of her own future as a fluent English speaker and talented writer.

    Thankfully, her life at school is getting better. Meixing joins a support class with Kevin and a boy called Josh, an immigrant from Greece who loves Graphic Novels.

    Kevin, who Meixing learns was an asylum seeker and is traumatised from his time on a boat to Australia, has behavioural issues and often lashes out in anger at his classmates. This is both because of their xenophobic attitudes and his own poor self-esteem as a result of his difficulties with English.

    Their teacher, Miss Jardine, is kind and understanding, encouraging them to be proud of their progress. She decides to hold an end-of-year presentation where her three students can show their improvement.

    At home, Meixing’s mother is lethargic, while Meixing is left to hold the household together.  When she finally convinces her mother to come grocery shopping with her, they are accosted by xenophobic teenagers.

    With the house’s help, Meixing is able to call the paramedics and get her mother to the hospital in time to give birth  to Xinxing. At the end-of-year presentation, Meixing, Josh, and Kevin all do well and Meixing feels she is moving towards her dream of being a writer.

    This intensely character-based novel is told in second person POV, and is also a technical masterclass.

    Meixing’s voice is crystal clear, considering how little she speaks over the course of the novel. Her vivid imagination and complex emotional landscape are easy to visualise.

    This novel integrates many different aspects of immigrant narratives, including interactions with authorities, language barriers, and cultural differences, painting a poignant and timeless picture.

    Though Meixing seems to be Chinese and the setting seems to be in the 1980s, the book avoids ever referring to countries or languages by name—instead using “The Old Language” and other descriptors. This gives Meixing’s story a universal and relatable element. It’s heartbreaking to read everything she had to go through, but inspiring and humbling to see her positivity and strength. A book that will stay with the reader forever.

    Themes

    immigration, grief, depression, language barriers, racism, xenophobia, family, magical realism, compassion, imagination, writing

    Content Notes

    1. Meixing imagines talking to her dead uncle in the greenhouse, and later her father (p. 69, 100, 271). This is confirmed to be her imagination at the end of the book. Discussion of ghosts in context of a discussion of Chinese funeral rites and observances (p. 165). Meixing thinks that the house can get bigger and smaller and change shape, but this is most likely a combination of discomfort with her new home and imagination. 2. Police officers tell Meixing and her mother that her father has died in a car accident (p. 80). Kevin tells Meixing that his father uses corporal punishment on him (p. 94, 198). Kevin gets into a fight to protect Meixing from bullies (p. 195). Racist teenagers corner Meixing and her mother. No-one is physically hurt (p. 253-254). 3. Kevin recollects the journey to Australia, during which his mother drugged him with cough syrup (p. 223). 4. Ailing jokes that Meixing and Kevin will get married (p. 131). Biaojie tries to talk about boys with Meixing, but Meixing is uninterested because she is too young (p. 143). 5. crap x 1.