Aster's good, right things by Kate Gordon
Riveted Press, 2020. 189pp. ISBN: 9780648492573.
(Ages 11+) Highly recommended. Aster is an 11-year-old girl who attends an alternative style school in Tasmania. We soon learn, through her first-person journal, that she is troubled and on the outer and more importantly we know what she is thinking in contrast to how she is acting. She also has an interest and passion for flowers and their symbolism. Aster is convinced that the only way she can survive is by doing good, right things for others but she rarely feels accomplishment or joy for herself.
She volunteers most of her school breaks in the library but one day she finds refuge in the school yard and meets Xavier and his rabbit Hollyhock. Their friendship grows through their openness about their mental health and Xavier's quirky dress and behaviour. Another important character at the school is Indigo who thwarts her need of love and rescuing behind aggressive behaviour. On the home front Aster's mother has left her and Aster's loving father. This has a huge impact on them both and Aster blames herself. Fortunately, her Aunt Noni supports them and then Indigo as well. Gradually Aster develops a group of like-minded friends around her and we have hope for their futures. Ultimately intelligent communication and love heals all their lives.
There are certainly other stories with characters experiencing anxiety and depression, family breakup and friendship issues. However, this story is deeply perceptive and true. It is right to acknowledge that all mothers don't love their children and that adults can be selfish and unwise. Kate Gordon captures the physicality of anxiety and the need to hide away. Gordon really gets into the mind of an 11-year-old and short unflowery sentences convey Aster's astute thoughts well. Sometimes these strings of thoughts are quite poetic.
Stories like these are so important for developing empathy for others. It suits a middle years audience well because it is not too graphic and shocking. Although it is a serious book it does have a whimsical quality which matches Aster's personality.
Teacher's notes are available.