Disability representation

Book Review: Stars in Their Eyes

Author: Jess Healy Walton
Illustrator: Aska
Publisher: Fremantle Press (2021)
Genre: Contemporary (graphic novel)

Digital drawing of two young people holding hands. The one on the left has long hair, has a satchel over one shoulder and a badge that says 'they/them.' The one on the right is wearing a tshirt that says The Future is Accessible.
Image source.
Image description in alt text.

“Maisie has always dreamed of meeting her hero, Kara Bufano, an amputee actor who plays a kick-arse amputee character in her favourite show. Fancon is big and exciting and exhausting. Then she meets Ollie, a cute volunteer who she has a lot in common with. Could this be the start of something, or will her mum, who doesn’t seem to know what boundaries are, embarrass her before she and Ollie have a chance?”

Stars In Their Eyes was an absolutely delightful read and I want to say upfront that this is less of a review and more of a list of all the reasons why you should get yourself a copy as soon as you can!

I first encountered this story when it appeared in the anthology ‘Meet Me At The Intersection’ (which I also loved and reviewed). The story is the same as it appeared in the anthology but Aska’s illustrations create an added layer of meaning and engagement.

As a fellow disabled person, it was great to see a graphic novel with a disabled main character, written by a disabled author, and which advocated for disability pride. There was an example of inspiration porn, when Maisie was swimming at a public pool and an older woman interrupted her to tell Maisie how inspiring she was, and said, “You’re getting out there and living your life. It’s so brave. I don’t know how I’d do it if I were you.” As Maisie pointed out, comments like those are not the compliment that able-bodied people perceive them to be. On a more positive, affirming note, I loved the T-shirt that Maisie wore with the slogan ‘The Future is Accessible’ and have ordered myself a face mask with the same design! It was also rejuvenating and reassuring to read a parent/child dynamic where the parent doesn’t try to normalize the child. Instead, Maisie’s mum is responsive to her needs and trusts that Maisie is the expert of her own experience. All parents of disabled children should take note and follow suit!

While Jess Walton made a powerful statement about disability pride, they also crafted a light-hearted romance. The connection between Maisie and her new friend, Ollie, was sweet. Their excitement at attending a convention would be relatable to other pop culture lovers, as would the frequent references to real world fandoms. (‘Danger Things’ representing ‘Stranger Things’ etc.) I’m curious about whether their bond, formed in a single day, would last. They’re so young and lived so far from one another. Perhaps my question will be answered in a sequel..? I can only hope!

Jess Healy Walton imbued Maisie’s story with elements of their own experience, which strengthened the story immeasurably. They are an amputee, like Maisie, and they crafted a story that is both entertaining and a way for nondisabled readers to learn about disability. Their collaboration with Aska is nothing short of wonderful.

You can buy a copy of Stars in Their Eyes from Booktopia.

This review was written on the lands of the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people of the Kulin nation. I pay my respect to their elders past and present and acknowledge that this always was and always will be Aboriginal land.

If you have the means, please consider donating to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.

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