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Book Review of Swimming in a Sea of Stars by Julie Wright
If you’re a long-time reader, you will know that my family has had its share of mental health struggles. I have shared my son’s story, and someday I will share my daughter and husband’s stories. When I taught 6th grade during the Covid-19 pandemic, I saw my students also struggle with their mental health. Mental health struggles are ubiquitous right now. Chances are that you know someone or are someone who struggles with mental health. In Swimming in a Sea of Stars by Julie Wright tackles this tough topic in a YA novel.
A single kindness can save a life.
Journal entry: Heading to school. I know what everyone will say. There goes the girl who tried to kill herself.
Addison is no stranger to feeling stressed, insecure, and sad. Her therapist recommended she keep a journal to help her understand those feelings better, which she really needs today. It’s her first day back to school, several weeks after she survived her suicide attempt. She knows there are rumors about why she did it: A lousy home life? Bullying? Heartbreak? None of them are true, but it doesn’t matter because Addison still feels like she’s drowning. She still holds secrets she’s not ready to share.
During the school day, Addison encounters four other students struggling with their own secrets:
Booker is anxious about seeing Addison. They were sort of a couple until he tried to kiss her. She fled and then tried to end her life. Those two things couldn’t be related, could they?
Celia feels trapped by her mother’s abusive boyfriend. She can guess why Addison did what she did.
Damion is TikTok-famous and thinks befriending Addison could boost his followers. But what no one knows is he needs the world to remember him since his sick mom doesn’t anymore.
Avery is considered a loner and doesn’t know Addison, but they have neighboring lockers. With Avery’s older brother in jail for dealing drugs, Avery is desperate for meaningful human connection.
Swimming in a Sea of Stars is a poignant and gripping novel about how we’re all interconnected, like the stars in the night sky that form constellations and map out the universe, and if even one star goes missing, the effect is profound.
My Book Review:
Mental health is tough to talk about when you’re an adult. It’s even tougher to talk about when you’re a teen. Sadly, my kids have found this out the hard way. They have tried reaching out to so-called friends and telling these friends their stories—only to be ignored, teased, or mocked. I’ve heard stories of adults reacting the same way. There is definitely still a stigma surrounding mental health issues, though I think that is beginning to change. When you can’t turn to friends, books are a great way to process tough emotions and to learn about hard things.
Reading about these hard topics in books works because you can see yourself in the characters. You can relate to their situations and what they’re going through. If you haven’t had the same struggle the characters have, reading about them and learning more about their struggles helps you learn compassion and empathy for what they’re going through. Characters help put a face to scary or unknown things, and that enables the reader to understand more about those things.
In Swimming in a Sea of Stars, Wright tackles many difficult things teens can experience. Addison has just recently recovered from an attempted suicide. Celia has been abused by her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. Damion’s mother is sick and needs constant care. Avery’s brother is in jail and has a big secret. Booker’s cousin has cancer. I found it a little overwhelming to learn about all these teens and their hard things, but it’s not unusual that so many people have their own battles to fight.
The premise of the story is that it’s Addison’s first day back at school after she attempted suicide. Of course, there are people talking about it—some in support and love and some to mock and laugh. Addison’s therapist recommended keeping a journal of her feelings and emotions throughout the day. These journal entries begin most of the chapters. Not only do they allow the reader to see her thoughts, but they also allow the reader to view her growth. The story follows each of the previously discussed characters.
As I previously stated, I felt extremely overwhelmed at the beginning of the book. It’s quite depressing learning about so many people experiencing some of the worst of the worst situations. It also seemed a bit forced that ALL these difficult situations would be in this one group of kids. However, as the story progressed, I truly came to care about each teen, and I felt such empathy for them and what they were going through.
The characters make this book. Each character is well written, well developed, unique, and has his or her own voice. Learning about their stories and the hardships they were enduring made my heart break for them. I think seeing each character through his or her own eyes will really help YA readers to see their peers differently. I hope it will encourage them to be kinder, more caring, and less judgmental.
Swimming in a Sea of Stars is well written. It took me a few minutes to remember who all the characters were and keep their stories straight, but once I figured it out it wasn’t a problem. The descriptions, the writing style, and the story line suck you into the story. The book has a lot of emotion and real-life stuff. I hope it allows YA to learn that it’s ok to not be ok. It’s ok to have struggles. Connections are what will help you through. Friends, family, trusted teachers, counselors, therapists, and the relationships you have with them will help you overcome your trials and difficulties.
I admit I was a bit skeptical at the beginning, but Swimming in a Sea of Stars won me over in the end. I loved learning about these teens and their stories. I know many teens are struggling with their mental health right now, and I think this book will be a great resource for them. It will give them hope for the future and a way to process their emotions. I think it will also help them see that they’re not alone. Many people have these same issues, and it’s when we help and care about each other that we can come out on the other side stronger and happier.
If you suffer from mental health issues like depression, anxiety, adhd, bipolar, etc. Please seek help and treatment. Talk to a trusted friend, family member, or religious leader. If you have hard things in your life like a sick family member or a difficult financial situation or abuse, please reach out for help. Find a therapist to talk to or a trusted friend or family member. Also, please check out my other website, Weakness to Strength. It is a collaboration of mental health resources for many different struggles. There is help out there!
Content Rating: PG-13+
- Profanity: None
- Intimacy: None
- Violence: Moderate (One character is physically abused and the actions of the abuser are discussed. Verbal and emotional abuse are also discussed. A child is also abused.)
- Heavy Themes: Suicide; mental health; physical, verbal, and emotional abuse; cancer; Alzheimer’s; online harassment.
My Rating: 4/5