By Ekta R. Garg
July 31, 2019
Genre: Women’s fiction
Release date: March 1, 2019
Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars
A PhD student meets a young girl who claims to be an alien. Despite the student’s efforts to send the girl home, the child persists in sticking close to her. As she works through the mystery of where the child came from and what to do about her, the student will discover a spark of magic that still resides in her own heart. Debut author Glendy Vanderah draws readers into the world she’s built in meticulous detail with a touching first novel in Where the Forest Meets the Stars.
As a cancer survivor, Joanna “Jo” Teale is eager to get back to her research. Her sudden diagnosis and treatment set her back months, maybe even a year or so, and now that she’s in remission she wants nothing more than to catch up on the bird habitats she’s investigating. As a PhD student in bird ecology and conservation, the budding ornithologist relishes the quiet she’s found in the small cabin she’s rented from her advisor. After the setback of chemo and recovery, life has begun to return to normal.
Normalcy is short-lived, though, when a young girl shows up in Jo’s back yard one night. The girl calls herself Ursa Major after the constellation and claims she’s traveled from its Pinwheel Galaxy to Earth to study humans. When she’s witnessed five miracles, Ursa says, she’ll go back to her own planet.
Jo doesn’t have time for a little girl playing an elaborate prank and tries to convince Ursa to go home. Ursa refuses then hides when Jo calls the police. The sheriff in the small Southern Illinois town refuses to help. If the girl’s a runaway, he says, Social Services will just dump her into a foster home, and he has a personal agenda against foster homes.
It seems like Jo is stuck playing babysitter, which she does not want to do. She has her research, for one. Also, the longer Ursa sticks around, the more she reminds Jo of what she’s lost after a double mastectomy and the removal of her ovaries. Given that Jo’s mother also died from cancer shortly before Jo’s own diagnosis, she’s had enough loss to last a lifetime and then some.
Ursa is beyond stubborn, insisting on staying with Jo and continuing with the claim that she’s an alien child. Whether that’s the truth or an elaborate lie, Jo can’t say for certain, but she also can’t doubt that since Ursa’s arrival life has begun to get complicated and interesting all at once. Jo teams up with one of the locals, a young man selling eggs, and between the two of them they try their best to figure out what’s best for Ursa while trying hard not to let the little girl win them over with her wit, her intelligence, and her affection.
Author Glendy Vanderah builds a balanced tale right from the start with excellent layering of character and story development. As readers get to know about Jo’s personal losses and challenges, Vanderah also draws straight lines to Jo’s present predicament—what to do about Ursa. The child’s innocence provides the perfect foil to her high IQ; clearly, this is a bright girl, and the longer she’s in Jo’s life, the more Jo, and readers, will start to question whether she really is an alien child after all.
Vanderah gives Jo a love interest but takes her time making the transitions between the romance and the rest of the book organic. Even as some of them feel serendipitous, none of the big events feel forced or out of place. The progression of the novel, from one highlight to the next, will keep readers engaged. The arc of Jo’s romantic outcomes might come across as a foregone conclusion, but that just leaves readers free to enjoy the “how” instead of the “what” or “why” of the novel.
While the end of the book might strike some as a little too fortuitous, by the end readers will find themselves glad that Vanderah chose the conclusion she did. She keeps Ursa’s secrets until close to the end, heightening the book’s intrigue when most of the other questions get answered. The careful plotting of the novel shines in the revelation of Ursa’s origin.
Those who enjoy a quiet novel that still moves forward with purpose will definitely like this book. I recommend readers Bookmark Where the Forest Meets the Stars.