This review is part of our Goodreads Group, Love Yourshelf, and our ongoing Book Reviews project.
Girl Made of Stars
Ashley Herring Blake
When I finished Girl Made of Stars 6 months ago, I came away from the story feeling so much
that I spent 4 hours with a friend venting about it. I told her, and myself, that I didn’t care for the
story because of the messiness of multiple sub-plots and themes. I asserted that I would have
rather been in any other character’s head aside from Mara, whose perspective we follow in the
novel. Fast forward and I can now reflect with a much clearer head and say, without a doubt, that
yes, this book is messy and tries to address too many topics in less than 300 pages, but there is no
better character to get lost with in this story than Mara.
Ashley Herring Blake’s Girl Made of Stars is a tumultuous narrative about trauma, but not necessarily the one at the forefront of the plot. Owen, Mara’s twin brother, is accused of rapinghis girlfriend Hannah, one of Mara’s best friends, at a party. Suddenly, Pebblebrook High School is thrown into chaos as friends begin taking sides. Mara is conflicted; does she believe her twin, someone she’s known her entire life, or her best friend? Owen swears up and down he’s innocent and begins spreading rumors about Hannah around the school. When Hannah returns to school, Mara attacks another student in an attempt to protect Hannah from the persecution of their peers, a result of Owen’s slander. On top of everything going on, Mara is also struggling with a recent break up. Charlie, Mara’s nonbinary ex-girlfriend has already moved on (sort of), but as the story unravels, we see Mara lean more on Charlie despite their strained relationship. She also mutually leans on Alex and begins a friends with benefits relationship with him, an attempt by both to seek comfort. Mara feels like Alex, as Owen’s best friend, is the person who most closely understands what she’s going through. Alex, on the other hand, is in a similar emotional tug-of-war between Owen and Hannah but for different reasons. It is through these two characters that we learn why Mara can’t completely believe her brother’s word.
Owen, it turns out, is guilty. Although Blake does a great job of leaving it up in the air for most
of the story, we come to find out that Alex witnessed the drunken assault, but couldn’t face the
reality of his friend’s actions and the trauma of witnessing the event yet doing nothing to stop it.
I was indignant that Owen’s charges were dropped. After reading nearly 300 pages centering on
such heavy topics, any reader would want a feel-good ending. However, I can’t fault the accurate
representation as it happens in so many real sexual assault cases. Blake hyper focuses on
depicting a realistic narrative through flawed characters, whose perceptions and actions are often
self-serving, as well as the flaws within society that lead to biases and unfairness. But by the end,
this isn’t the truth we care about. Owen and Hannah’s tragic story, however, pave the way for
Mara’s even sadder truth.
It’s at a school fundraiser following her suspension for attacking a student in defense of Hannah
that Mara is finally able to achieve clarity amidst her suffocating thoughts. Why can’t she look
Owen in the eye and believe her twin when he says he didn’t do it? While working at the
fundraiser with Charlie, Mara opens up about Mr. Knoll, a teacher she had a few years prior who
accused her of cheating to make sexual advances on her. To be honest, the author probably didn’t
need to go as far with the narrative as she did here because, up until this point, I felt Mara’s
indecision was compelling and believable on its own. To me, Mara’s reveal was confusing and
also a bit upsetting. Sure, Mara’s trauma would impact her family, but I don’t believe people
need to be personally impacted by an issue to defend it. People can support issues because they
are important and right, such as justice for Hannah, even if they have never personally
experienced the trauma of rape. I originally saw this reveal as an attempt to get Owen to admit
his guilt, and nothing more. This was upsetting because it felt like Blake was creating a story
that, while told through Mara’s perspective, was really told to highlight her brother’s struggle as
opposed to Hannah’s.
It was only after sitting with the story for a while that I recognized how important the reveal was.
Mara was a silent victim, as so many real people are, and while the focus of this book on the
surface is Hannah’s rape, I think it is more so a story about violence and betrayal at the hands of
people we should trust, and the failure of a society that refuses to believe the voices of women.
Because of this failure, so many individuals never step forward against their abusers and are
often silenced. This story is about how one person’s brave telling of their story can become a
catalyst for others to do the same, despite the immense fear and pressure these survivors face.
Mara was assaulted by a teacher and Hannah by a beloved boyfriend. Girl Made of Stars does a tremendous job of emphasizing the weight Hannah’s accusation has on the feelings of the people around her. Hannah’s accusation is so difficult to grasp for many characters because, in believing Hannah and seeing the truth, it means they’ve lost someone they trusted and loved.