I picked up Virginia Macgregor’s As Far As The Stars in West End Lane Books. I had had a good nosey around all of the shelves except those nearest the door, and as I waited to be served at the counter, I did a slow 180 turn to see what was in the random selection behind me. High up on one of the shelves this book was facing outwards. I stretched up to get it and, graceful as ever, knocked a couple of books over and some on the floor in the process. I half-jokingly thought to myself, well I’ll have to buy it now because I’ll never get it back up on the shelf, but on reading the blurb found I genuinely did want to get it.
What I didn’t realise, and which isn’t clear from the blurb, (to no detriment), is that this is Young Adult fiction. Looking at the cover now I can of course see a likeness to John Green’s novels which didn’t strike me at the time, and it wasn’t until quite a few chapters in that I realised both central characters are late teens. Understanding family dynamics, self-discovery, fitting in and finding your place in the world are all strands of teenage life that we can relate to, and which this book deals with very well, so I would encourage people not to be put off by thinking the genre is fenced off by its name – you do not need to be young to enjoy this book.
I think Virginia has done a fantastic job of nailing the opening and first three chapters – those all-important hooks when you are writing for submission and securing your reader’s investment in the story are all there. At the end of chapter three I knew I was in the safe hands of a writer who knew exactly what they were doing and the journey they were going to take their readers on. This neatly dovetails my next point…
Much of the story arc takes place on a cross-state road trip, and I believe there is a real skill to writing about journeys. Thinking about Lord of the Rings and how huge chunks of it are centred around walking, it requires a lot confidence in your material to correctly pace the drama and (in)action in a long journey. In As Far As The Stars, much of it takes place on the road on a three day 700-mile trip by two teenagers who have only known each other for little over an hour before setting off. There is therefore a lot of back story to establish along the way, plus a lot of dialogue that naturally comes with their closely confined situation. On top of this there is the unfolding process of dealing with grief and unexpected loss, which is where the book really shines.
Having lost a friend in sudden, traumatic circumstances at the age of seventeen, this perhaps resonated with me more than it might for some, but a lot of the thought processes and pinballing emotions that Christopher and Air experience felt authentic and true. I rarely cry reading books and this one got me on two or three occasions.
At 400+ pages it’s not a short book, but I completed it in three sittings, drawn in by the budding friendship and growing closeness of two young people who gradually find solace in eachother when their lives will never be the same again. I won’t lie, I am a hopeless romantic at heart and so I was fully invested from page one. I would also be the first to watch the Netflix movie, (I would be really surprised if the rights don’t get snapped up as this is perfect teen movie material), where I would no doubt cry all over again.