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Book Reviews: Looking at the Stars, Jo Cotterill

Book Reviews: Looking at the Stars, Jo Cotterill
Looking at the Stars by Jo Cotterill
Published by Bodley Head on 30 January 2014
Format: ARC
Amina's homeland has been ravaged by war for many months, but so far she and her family are safe, together. When a so-called liberating force arrives in the country, the family think their prayers for peace will soon be answered, but they are horribly wrong . . . The country is thrown into yet further turmoil and Amina's family is devastated . . .

Through it all, Amina has her imagination to fall back on - of a better place and time. But can her stories get her through this?

Review by Amber, age 10

Looking at the Stars is a really different book and it was so interesting and sad, although it is very grown up too. It is basically about the life and journey of a family from Talas who are ruled and bossed around by a nasty Ruler and his army.

The family has a religion where the women wear headscarves, which are different colours depending on whether they are married or how old they are. I thought it was very cruel the way that if somebody broke the rules his or her whole family would all be punished. My favourite character would have to be Amina because of how outspoken she is and how she doesn’t care about the rules that she has to obey.  This takes a lot of courage as she would have been punished very badly if she was caught breaking the rules. She was once caught smiling and was severely reprimanded and ridiculed.

The ending is really tragic and an interesting ending to a fantastic story. This book has really made me think about how lucky I am to have a house with running water and a bedroom to myself and more than one bathroom. Some people in the world, like Amina’s family, are not as lucky and have no running water and no electricity. In summary, this is a thought provoking book and it could make you cry.

Five stars!


Review by Rachel Hamilton

Looking at the Stars is a book about life in Talas under ‘the glorious leader and his glorious Kwana army’, where women are considered inferior to men and where everyone is forced to wear badges indicating their class.

The story is told through the eyes of thirteen year old Amina, whose imagination offers hope in the darkness and whose voice cries out to be heard in a world where women are routinely suppressed and segregated.

In their different ways, Amina’s family all rebel against their oppression. Eldest son Ruman joins a secret underground movement, Mamie continues to visit and help ‘Q’ families even when it’s no longer safe, and Potta protests through the power of silence as he tries to protect his family.

The reader may be tempted to place the Kwana in a particular country and to link their oppressive laws to a particular religion, but Jo Cotterill avoids identifying regimes. She is even-handed, describing how the Kwana were initially a force for good, improving hospitals and transport, and illustrating how Amina is discomfited by the liberating soldiers who stare too openly and suggest that ‘pretty girls’ have ways of getting what they want.

Rather than making political statements, Looking at the Stars focuses instead on the human tale of Amina’s struggle to survive, and on the people she encounters on her journey. The hints of romance are sweet and convincing, and if I had one complaint it would be that I wanted a more fulfilling ending for Aron and Amina (sequel please, commissioning people).

This is a powerful and compelling book. I opened it intending to flick through the first chapter, and ended up cancelling my plans for the day because I had to find out what happened to Amina after the brutal attack that separated her family.

As Amina shares stories beneath the stars, her sister is constantly checking, “This is a happy story, isn’t it, Mini?” And although Looking at the Stars contains bleak moments, overall it is a story of hope, and of survival. Jo Cotterill has created an exciting, nerve-wracking and, at times, heart-breaking tale that will speak to readers of all ages. This is a book that I suspect will be talked about long after it has been put down


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