Meixing Lim and her family have arrived at the New House in the New Land. Everything is vast and unknown to Meixing – including the house she names Big Scary. She is embarrassed by her second-hand shoes, has trouble understanding the language at school, and is finding it hard to make friends.
Meixing’s only solace is a glasshouse in the garden, which inexplicably holds the sun and the moon and the secrets of her memory and imagination. But when her fragile universe is rocked by tragedy, it will take all of Meixing’s bravery to find her place of belonging in this new world.
A Glasshouse of Stars is an exquisite and heart-wrenching story by Shirley Marr that is influenced by her own experiences as a first-generation Chinese-Australian, who arrived in mainland Australia from Christmas Island in the 1980s. Experiencing the good, the bad, and the wonder that comes with culture shock, Marr has been in love with reading and writing from an early age. She describes herself as having a Western mind with an Eastern heart, and this description really resonates with Meixing’s story.
Marr’s choice to write this novel in second person takes empathy to a whole new level. It was an eye-opening read that put me in the shoes of Meixing; experiencing the change, uncertainty, and discomfort that comes with the migrant experience. Having interacted with many immigrants over the years (including both of my parents), this novel prompts you to reflect on your own experiences and exchanges with others.
One of the most fascinating parts of the novel was that the house (also known as Big Scary) was a character itself. Throughout the novel, Big Scary shifts in shape and size and communicates with Meixing. The shift in size mimics Marr’s own experience with moving house – both big and small – four times in four years. The house’s name also reflects her feelings at pivotal points in the story. Towards the end of the novel, she changes the house’s name to Little Scary in tandem with her change in feeling towards her immigrant experience.
A Glasshouse of Stars is the perfect reading experience for kids aged 9+. It’s endearing, raw, and highlights the realities of change in an intimate way. It’s a conversation starter and will give children the chance to interact with immigrant peers, friends, and family in a way they haven’t before. I recommend it for anyone who loved Wonder and The Secret Garden.