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In Sight of Stars


In Sight of Stars

In Gae Polisner's newest novel, we meet 17-year-old art-loving Klee (pronounced Clay). Having recently moved from New York City to a town on the outskirts after his father's sudden death, Klee finds himself desperately trying to hold on to normalcy. But when it all gets to be too much, a breakdown sends him to a psychiatric hospital not so lovingly nicknamed the "Ape Can" by the locals. Here, Klee --- with help from the hospital's staff --- will have to look back on his life and on the loves and the losses in order to truly move forward again.

IN SIGHT OF STARS deals with mental health, Vincent van Gogh, family and recovery; all told in some of the most beautiful prose you will probably ever read.

I'd like to start by addressing a major fault of mine when first reading IN SIGHT OF STARS. When I first heard what IN SIGHT OF STARS was about, I immediately thought of IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY by Ned Vizzini. There were a few parallels and this excited me. After having finished IN SIGHT OF STARS, I can say that that was a mistake. The two books are extremely different --- both good, but in their own ways. I really enjoyed IN SIGHT OF STARS, but I could've enjoyed it more --- and sooner --- if I hadn't made the comparison. So, what I highly urge any future readers to do is entirely clear your mind of any preconceived expectations; forget entirely what you think it reminds you of. Go in with a blank canvas, remember to think of the big picture and get ready to witness Polisner artfully craft something you've never seen before.

"As far as I'm concerned, IN SIGHT OF STARS is the equivalent to 'Starry Night Over the Rhone,' making Gae Polisner the Vincent van Gogh of young adult fiction."

Having never read Polisner’s works prior to this, I had no idea what to expect writing-wise. I found myself enjoying the first few pages, but as it went on, I found it all to be a bit too confusing. From the narrator's voice to the sudden flashbacks, I couldn't understand why Polisner wrote the way she did. The story was interesting, but her way of telling it was odd. I found myself wondering why she was writing in the way she was as it felt like it took away from the story.

As the story and mentions of Van Gogh went on, I realized that I'd have to look up his art. In all my years of life, I'd never looked at a van Gogh painting --- truly looked. All I'd ever given was a glance. I liked it, so why look longer, deeper? But Polisner's writing persuaded me; I wanted to understand Klee.

As I looked at individual sections for the first time, I saw just how complex they were. I found myself unable to identify which way the strokes were moving; back, forth, possibly both simultaneously? I saw all the colors I'd never noticed before. It was pretty, no doubt, but confusing. The strokes were pretty and required skill, but I, being the snob that I am, couldn't consider those tiny, isolated bits to be true art. Then I looked at the bigger picture. I could for the first time see the way everything interacted. All the confusing, but exquisite back-and-forth strokes coming together to create true art, an unconventional approach to creating a masterpiece. As far as I'm concerned, IN SIGHT OF STARS is the equivalent to “Starry Night Over the Rhone,” making Gae Polisner the Vincent van Gogh of young adult fiction.

Once I understood Polisner's writing, I was hooked. Her depiction of mental health was real in a way that I think a lot of other books either skim over or ignore entirely. Klee's interactions with Dr. Alvarez were perfection. So often in books that feature mental health, a therapist is either someone with a god complex or entirely unhelpful to the situation at hand. If they aren't those, then they are entirely forgettable, which isn't ideal considering that they're meant to be offering some really insightful advice. No need to worry about that in IN SIGHT OF STARS. Polisner perfectly captured what a good therapist is like. On top of that, Polisner also shows the difference between repressing feelings and actually moving beyond them, another thing that is often skimmed over. She helps to break the stigma around mental health, constantly reminding us that we all could use a little help sometimes.

Not only does Polisner accurately give a glimpse at what it's like to have mental illness; she displays the worries of teenagers in stunning clarity. A large portion of the book is spent questioning if we truly are our parents; if we're the people we admire and idolize (parents or other people) for better or for worse. While this isn't exactly a new topic for young adult literature, I think Polisner writes it in a way that does feel refreshing and sets IN SIGHT OF STARS apart from many other novels.

I highly recommend IN SIGHT OF STARS to anyone who is looking for a good mental health book, as well as anyone who is looking for some truly beautiful prose.

Reviewed by Olivia W., Teen Board Member on March 14, 2018

In Sight of Stars
by Gae Polisner