Reviews /

We Are All Constellations

Authored by Amy Beashel
Published by Oneworld Publications

We Are All Constellations is a heart-wrenching story for older teenage readers about loss, grief and love.

When we first meet our narrator Iris, she seems strong and tough, determined not to let the death of her mother seven years previously affect her. However, through her interest in urban exploration and abandoned buildings, she uncovers a secret which changes everything. With the help of her family and friends, she must come to terms with what happened and who she really is.

I was impressed with the authenticity of Iris’s voice, which is lively, witty and irreverent but also conveys an underlying sense of vulnerability and insecurity. I especially liked the way that Amy Beashel is prepared to make Iris such a flawed character: she frequently gets things wrong, such as her completely misjudged response when one friend comes out as asexual, and is unduly harsh on other members of her family (in a way that feels completely believable in a teenage protagonist). Nonetheless, she remains deeply lovable and is able to learn and grow over the course of the novel.

This is a book which deals candidly and seriously with a wide range of adult topics, including sex, mental illness, suicide and violence against women and girls, and therefore, I would only share it with mature KS4 and KS5 students. However, I think it has real value for those readers in that it is able to explore these weighty and important issues within the safe space of YA fiction where we are still left with a sense of hope. This hope feels more convincing because of the dark places Beashel has taken us to en route. For instance, one scene in which a character phones the Samaritans could easily become clichéd but instead feels raw and honest; the conversation doesn’t solve all of this character’s problems, but the acceptance and lack of judgement they experience gives them the strength to carry on. These heavier themes are also balanced with plenty of humour and some great descriptions of ‘urbexing’, slam poetry, gardening and LEGO!

For older students who love emotionally intense coming-of-age stories, this will become a firm favourite.