A Pocketful of Stars

Carolrhoda. Sept. 2023. 248p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781728450698.
Gr 6-8–Three generations of Kuwaiti women seemed destined to repeat the mistakes of their past until the unlikely pairing of video-game finesse and dreamy magical realism helps the heroine disrupt old patterns. Safiyah, in her tiny town outside of London, watches as her mother Aminah chats easily with Safiyah’s best friend, Elle, about theater and everything else. Saff just wants to snare tickets to a hot video-game con. Little more than a week later, Aminah has a stroke and slips into a coma, apparently right after a fight with Saff. Guilt-ridden, especially since she chose to live with her father when her parents divorced, Safiyah believes she is the only one who can save her mother, by decoding the fabulist daydreams she has whenever she visits the hospital. She realizes she is swimming in her mother’s memories of growing up in Kuwait. Bushby takes chances with readers’ attention spans in early scenes by overexplaining video-game play, but then submerges them in a compelling and emotional tale. In the diverse and nimble cast, which includes mother and daughter with dark hair and olive skin, Safiyah grows up on the pages, from a hesitant follower of stronger personalities to a fast-thinking actor in a “real life” chase to revive her mother. As in games, some characters and some objects prove useless, or different than they seemed in the beginning. It all comes down to a single scene of gratifying and well-played heartbreak.
VERDICT A nearly perfect older tween, early teen tale, with best friend realignments and romance moving in from the horizon, plus mother-daughter fireworks for the ages. A recommended read.

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