The Girl With Space In Her Heart by Lara Williamson

The Blurb On The Back:

Mabel Mynt knows a lot about space …

… like how we feel connected to the stars because we are all made of stardust.

And that Mum’s new boyfriend, Galactic Gavin, has eyes that twinkle like Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky.

And that sometimes the perfect place for her sister, Terrible Topaz, would be a black hole.

But Mabel doesn’t know how to fill the space in her heart that Dad left when he walked out.

And so she sets out on a mission of discovery …

You can order The Girl With Space In Her Heart by Lara Williamson from Amazon USAAmazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Mabel Mynt lives in the town of Dóchas on the coast of Ireland with her mum (who runs a fudge shop called Fudge Fudge Wink Wink), 12-year-old elder sister, Topaz (who loves reading romance novels) and their cat, Jupiter.  Her mum and dad split up after an argument over a year ago and neither Mabel nor Topaz have seen or hear from him since.  Mabel worries about whether he’s okay and she misses him, not least because he gave her her most treasured possession – a book about the universe called I Need Space.  Things aren’t all bad though – her mum has been dating letting agent Gavin (called ‘Galactic’ Gavin by Topaz) who shares Mabel’s love of space and stars and who makes her mum happy, even if Topaz doesn’t seem to like him at all.  

When a new girl – Dolly-Rose – joins Mabel’s class whose dad is a nuclear scientist and her mum a brain surgeon, Mabel makes an effort to be friendly to her because Dolly-Rose always seems to be on her own and Mabel knows what it’s like to be lonely.  But Dolly-Rose doesn’t seem to like Mabel, blowing cold and freezing whenever Mabel is around, which leaves her feeling very confused.

Disaster strikes when Topaz tells Mabel that she has proof that Gavin is cheating on their mum and they need to get rid of him.  Mabel can’t believe it, not when Gavin is so nice, but when she sees evidence of it for herself, she can’t really deny it and reluctantly agrees to help Topaz get rid of Gavin for good, even though it makes her worry more and more until it’s almost as if she has a suitcase full of worries to carry about with her …

Lara Williamson’s contemporary novel for children aged 9+ deals sensitively with the subjects of anxiety and depression and children will empathise with Mabel’s ever-growing worries.  However, the plot is very busy so the pacing sags and for me it’s overwritten and too reliant on similes.  I also wanted to know how old Mabel was because at times she seems quite young (notably her belief in the magic goblet) but otherwise seems older than Topaz.

What’s good about this book is that it tackles head on the subjects of anxiety and depression with Mabel’s first person POV making it easy for readers to empathise with her as she describes her ever-growing list of worries and how it makes her feel.  Williamson does well at showing how difficult it is for Mabel to talk about it because she doesn’t want to trouble her mum and feels distant to Topaz who is clearly going through stuff of her own.  Mabel’s confusion over what to think about Gavin is well depicted with Williamson doing a good job of showing how much they have in common and how Gavin clearly cares about her and her mum and tries with Topaz (who makes no secret of her dislike of him).  

However the mystery of what happened to Mabel’s dad is very heavy-handed and I thought that it could have been trimmed without losing anything to the story given that the resolution is quite pat and I didn’t fully buy into Mabel’s mums reasons for not explaining the truth to her daughters (not when they live in such a small town and the chances of the truth coming out were high).  Similarly, the Dolly-Rose sub-plot gets lost in the overall story and has a bit of a tagged on vibe to it, which is a shame because depression is also a serious issue and there was a neat parallel between the issues Dolly-Rose had with her mother and what Mabel herself is going through.  Unfortunately, I didn’t understand Dolly-Rose’s hostility and the obvious lies she tells about her parents didn’t add anything (despite her explanation about wanting to daydream of a better life), while her apparent belief in the power of the goblet seemed a little silly, even as a McGuffin.  The fact that there’s so much going on in the book (including the girls investigating Gavin’s mysterious blonde lady friend and who he visits on Tuesdays, Mabel’s obsession with the space book, Topaz’s bullying storyline) means that the pace really sags in places and at times I found it a bit of a plod.  It isn’t helped by the fact that for me it’s overwritten with Williamson determined to get in at least 2 similes every page, with some of those similes proving to be really heavy-handed and not adding anything to the text.

The other thing that bothered me is that it’s not clear in the book how old Mabel is other than that she’s younger than Topaz.  This mattered to me in the context of the goblet storyline because at times she seemed very young, which explained why she was ready to believe in it, but at the same time her interest in the universe and science should have made her more credulous.  At other times, she seems older than Topaz and her poems are quite mature at points in terms of her emotions.

This is all a shame because there are some lovely touches in the book – I especially loved the business names in Dóchas from Fudge Fudge Wink Wink to Yes Lets and The Frying Squad cafe. I also enjoyed the continuous battles in Mabel’s class between the enthusiastic Mr Spooner and class joker Lee.  Ultimately though, for me this was just an okay read although I would be interested in checking out Williamson’s other books.  

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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