The fact that we are all made of “star stuff” is one that is discussed often inside my home, and I was delighted to discover how much this middle grade story focuses on this reality. Though I did not love the narrator of the audiobook, the tale itself was engaging and inspiring and I was glad to have had the chance to read it. Short chapters and a succinct plot line make the book accessible to newer middle grade readers, but the higher-level concepts presented within the story will connect with older readers, as well. Please see my full review below!
Stars fill the night sky with beauty as they radiate light from a great distance, and the elements that burn so brightly in stars are found in everything across the universe. Alma is in middle school, and after moving to the town of Four Points with her parents, she is beginning to suffer from panic attacks that force her to flee from situations that cause her discomfort. When she stumbles across a mysterious shop called The Fifth Point, Alma is given a unique tool that helps her see the quintessence residing in otherwise ordinary objects around her. Together with a group of new friends, Alma must brave the unknown to discover the truth about herself and save a kindred life.
Jess Redman has the gift of storytelling, daringly combining adventure and human nature into a lovely and thought-provoking package. Quintessence introduces readers to young Alma who is struggling to find her place in the world. She is comfortingly familiar, especially for readers who suffer from any level of panic attacks, themselves. Feeling inadequate and lacking, Alma chooses to hide her reality in an effort to fit in, which ultimately makes things worse. As the story continues, truth outshines the lies Alma has been telling to protect herself, proving to both herself and the reader that true friends and family will love her no matter what.
This book is well suited to newer middle grade readers because of its short chapters and clear plot. Though the primary focus is on Alma, another important character is featured occasionally, giving readers insight into the true nature of the story before the characters themselves are aware of it. Alma speaks in the first person, making her feelings and behaviors clear for the reader, especially as she works to determine what is happening to her and how best to move through her insecurities. Thanks to the variety of character types included in this story, a wealth of facts and observations enhance the plot and help readers understand more than just the narrative itself.
While this story is based in magic realism, it shares an important message about everyone and everything being connected to one another. Alma begins the story as an anxious outsider, struggling to come to terms with the changes happening in and around herself. However, as she finds a greater purpose, she discovers not only her true nature but just how interconnected the universe can be. Readers of all ages will be inspired by the bravery displayed by Alma and her friends, and they will more deeply consider the complexity of the universe after the story ends. This is an excellent and thought-provoking addition to libraries for middle grade readers.
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