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The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

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RATING: 3/5

BLURB: “Forbidden to leave her island, Isabella dreams of the faraway lands her father once mapped. When her best friend disappears, she’s determined to be part of the search party. Guided by an ancient map and her knowledge of the stars, Isabella navigates the island’s dangerous Forgotten Territories. But beneath the dry rivers and dead forests, a fiery myth is stirring from its sleep…”

REVIEW: I had been eager to read this book for a while, and one of the first things I noticed is that it seems to also have been based on one of the more common tropes of YA fiction in recent years; that of the protagonist living under a tyrannical regime where information is kept from the public. Isabella is a young woman living with her father (a mapmaker), her hen (Miss La) and her cat, desperate to explore the world outside of the borders of the island of Joya, the only place she has ever known. As the only friend of the restrictive Governor’s daughter, Lupe, Isabella is determined to join in the search for Lupe when she runs away to try and fix a mistake that she has made. Disguising herself aa a boy, Isabella joins the search party as a navigator along with Pablo, her neighbour who, it soons transpires, she has rather a crush on. I loved the description of this fantastical world in which Isabella lives, and how it seems to link in some ways to our own world – I suspect it is meant to be a future version of one section of our current earth. The book itself is also beautifully illustrated, which adds to its mythological and magical nature, and intricately designed.

I did find upon reading this book, however, that it reminded me very strongly of the Disney film ‘Moana’, released in the same year as the novel’s publication. Isabella’s desire to explore the world outside of her island reminded me very much of Moana’s, as did her pet hen (who ends up in almost as many sticky situations as HeiHei), and, most significantly, her battle at the end of the novel with a mythological fire demon living beneath the island itself. I would therefore definitely recommend this novel to fans of the ‘Moana’ film, though the similarities did a few times strike me as almost uncanny.

I loved the ending of this novel, however; it was moving and poignant, with the sadness of the death of Lupe intermingled with the joy of freedom for the island of Joya. I felt perhaps this novel could have been longer, as some parts felt somewhat rushed, but otherwise I enjoyed it and thought it a very good debut.

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All the Light we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “For Marie-Laure, blind since the age of six, the world is full of mazes. The miniature of a Paris neighbourhood, made by her father to teach her the way home. The microscopic layers within the valuable diamond that her father guards in the Museum of Natural History. The walled city by the sea, where father and daughter take refuge when the Nazis invade Paris. And a future which draws her ever closer to Werner, a German orphan, destined to labour in the mines until a broken radio fills his life with possibility and brings him to the notice of the Hitler Youth.

In this magnificent, deeply moving novel, the stories of Marie-Laure and Werner illuminate the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.”

REVIEW: This is a beautifully written and evocative novel which follows the stories of two young people, Marie-Laure and Werner, during the years of the Second World War, focusing particularly on the German occupation of France. Marie-Laure is a young French girl, blind and living with her beloved Papa, a security guard at the Museum of Natural History. In his charge is one of the most precious jewels in the world , the Sea of Flames. This particular diamond is world-renowned and held under tight lock and key, and endangers the lives of Marie-Laure and her father when he is put in charge of it in order to hide it from occupying German Forces. Moving to the coastal town of Saint-Malo to live with her eccentric uncle Etienne and his maid, Marie-Laure has to learn to adapt to a whole new landscape, as well as cope with the disappearance of her father.

Meanwhile, a young German orphan named Werner is plucked from the obscurity of his orphanage and the love of his younger sister when his clever inventions and skills with electrical equipment get him noticed by the Hitler Youth. As he becomes more deeply involved, Werner begins to notice the wrongs of the regime and understand its deep-seated hatred and brutality. His noticing of this keeps him from revealing the identity of Marie-Laure when he discovers her making secret radio broadcasts during the German occupation. This is the point at which the stories of the two characters intertwine, a point which shows us the true beauty of how people will still help others even when the world as they know it is falling apart.

I loved the alternating point of views of these two protagonists, and other more secondary characters were also involved, including Nazi generalĀ  Von Rumpel, who is ruthless in his quest to find the Sea of Flames. Having the point of views of bother Marie-Laure and Werner allowed the reader to experience how young people in two very different countries may have adapted to the dangerous situations and tense atmosphere of the period, allowing greater focus on a huge event. Doerr’s writing style is gripping and interesting, as well as being brilliantly descriptive and beautifully worded; he really brings across a deepening sense of danger in the lives of both characters as the story (and the war) progresses. And when the meeting of Marie-Laure and Werner finally comes, it is just as the reader hoped it would be and more, although the moment is snatched away far too quickly by tragedy that has the reader reeling and feeling heartbroken. Despite the poignant ending, it is also a satisfying one that ties up the loose ends and leaves the reader feeling a sad echo of the novel long after they had finished it.