As 2018 slid quietly away, I was immersed in the late 1960s. An alternate 1960s where aliens crash land on Earth and astronauts other than Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin head to the moon. Our Child of the Stars is a gentle science fiction tale that is more about the depth of human compassion than it is whizzy alien technology and laser swords. You don’t have to be a science fiction fan enjoy this book. It’s a perfect novel for GeekDad readers, centering around the trials of parenting and depth of love we feel for our children. It’s about the power of our children to change the world.
Here are five reasons why you should read it:
1. The Premise
In a small town of Amber Grove, something “other” crashes. Two aliens, mother and son, are found in their spacecraft. Injured. They’re rushed to hospital, but the mother dies, leaving behind a terrified child who can barely communicate with those who have come to his aid.
The parties involve quickly realize that to hand over the child to the authorities will almost certainly mean its death. Out of respect for the dying mother and their silent promise to her, they agree to keep the child’s identity a secret. Ultimately, Cory will end up living with one of his nurses, Molly. This is their story.
2. The Setting
1960s small-town America is brilliantly brought to life by Stephen Cox. As the novel opens fire rains from the heavens on the quiet town of Amber Grove causing chaos, devastation and a number of casualties. As well as being about Cory and his relationship with Molly and her husband Gene, the novel is about Amber Grove. A town brought together by tragedy. The denizens and social interactions of Amber Grove are not too dissimilar to somewhere you might find gracing a Stephen King novel. Its incidental, yet somehow integral to the plot.
Added to that are the little details that make this an alternate Earth. This is most obvious with the Moon landings. The use of an alternate Earth is is arguably entirely irrelevant to the story, yet it adds another dimension to the novel’s sense of “other.” (I’m not sure why I keep writing “other” in quotes for this piece…)
3. The Development of Cory
A book that centers around the bond between an alien and the humans that care for him, is going to rely heavily on making that alien a strong, likeable character. Somebody the reader can identify with and bond to themselves. The success of this is Cox’s finest trick. I say trick, it probably took weeks and months of work, and rework to get it just right. Most GeekDad readers know exactly what it’s like to nurture a new life into the world. The wonder of watching them develop and try to understand the world they’re living in.
So it is with Cory, a young, articulate child trying to come to terms with is situation. Not only is he developing much as any child would, he is also trying to come to terms with the isolation of being kept hidden and the fact that he is the only one of his kind anywhere nearby. Will his people come for him? Is he destined to be alone forever. Play and social interaction are so important for children, how will Cory cope without it.
4. Mother Molly
Aligned with Cory’s development is the relationship with his adoptive mother. Molly is a wonderful character, a talented nurse who hit the bottle after a family tragedy. She’s offered something close to redemption when she adopts Cory but at what cost?
Sitting over the novel at all times is the sense that something will go wrong. Molly’s happiness cannot last. Or can it? Will Cory be discovered, and if so what will the consequences be? Worse, possibly, what if Cory’s people come to take him back home? What will happen to Molly then? Will Cory leave? These questions hang in the air with every page. As the novel nears the end the tension of how these questions will be answered is almost unbearable.
5. A Tale in Three Acts
The pacing of Our Child of the Stars is nigh on perfect. In the opening third we see a damaged community, trying to overcome its tragedy. Nestled inside that is a world-changing secret. The second act gives us small-town domesticity and travails of parenting, albeit in very difficult circumstances.
All the while, shadowy forces are moving. Secrets are hard to keep. Without giving too much away, the third act injects pace and suspense as the novel heads off, at speed in another direction. The third act is filled with intrigue and suspense, and leads to some unexpected places.
Our Child of the Stars will draw inevitable comparisons with E.T. There are many similarities. Yet, despite being set in the 60s, the novel is modern in its sensibilities. The concept of “alien” is explored. The fear of something unknown. The choice of President at the time of the novel is surely not a coincidence. The novel is beautiful examination of the parenting bond. Set against the backdrop of a small, decent, American town, Our Child of the Stars celebrates diversity, togetherness and the incomparable depths of human compassion.
Check out my Q&A with author Stephen Cox that will be published tomorrow.
If you enjoyed this review, check out my other 5 Reasons to Read posts.
Do also check out the posts on the Our Child of the Stars blog tour.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for review.