Book Review: Stargazing for Beginners  

by Jenny McLachlan

Published by Bloomsbury 2017

Meg is a self-confessed geek. She loves astronomy, is academically and scientifically very bright and knowledgeable. She wants to be an astronaut – and probably will be. She is also a teenager, mortified by the low level bullying she tolerates at school but imperceptibly developing feelings she doesn’t understand for Ed, the clever boy she sits next to at school. Meanwhile at home she is dealing with her daffy, hippy mother who temporarily takes off to the third world leaving Meg in charge of her half-sister, with her eccentric, science-obsessed grandfather on the side lines. There’s some delightful characterisation in this novel.

Jenny McLachlan (see our interview with her on p30) has clearly set out to humanise science. And her protagonist isn’t female by chance. You can be besotted with it while dealing with all the same issues and challenges as everyone else. And because this is a first-person narrative, skilled writing means that the reader can often see beyond what Meg as narrator is actually saying. Ed, for instance, is nothing like as judgmental and sneering as Meg initially thinks he is. We also see just how lonely Meg is and are glad for her when she gradually acquires a feisty, very interesting new friend in wheelchair user, Annie – who is, incidentally, to be the subject of McLachlan’s next novel.

Stargazing for Beginners is a compelling read and I learned quite a lot about astronomy – because it underpins so much of Meg’s inner world. Outwardly her life, through no choice of her own, is pretty chaotic. Inwardly she is very focused. And the contrast is perfectly plausible. Meg’s voice is also often very funny. Quite an achievement for her creator.

Review by Susan Elkin