Your Preview Verdict: A Glasshouse of Stars by Shirley Marr

Your Preview Verdict: A Glasshouse of Stars by Shirley Marr

Meixing Lim and her family have arrived at the New House in the New Land, inherited from First Uncle who died tragically and unexpectedly while picking oranges in the backyard. Everything is vast and unknown to Meixing and not in a good way, including the house she has dubbed Big Scary. She is embarrassed by the second-hand shoes given to her by the kind neighbours, has trouble understanding the language at school, and with fitting in and making new friends. Her solace is a glasshouse in the garden that inexplicably holds the sun and the moon and all the secrets of her memory and imagination.

Her fragile universe is rocked when tragedy strikes and Ma Ma refuses to face the world outside. Meixing finds herself trapped within the shrinking walls of Big Scary. Her parents said this would be a better life for them all, but it feels like the worst and most heart-breaking experience of Meixing’s entire existence. Surviving will take all the resilience and inner belief of this brave girl to turn their world around.

Read some great reviews of A Glasshouse of Stars from our Preview readers here:

A Glasshouse of Stars has been a lovely discovery for me. I would not have picked it since the target audience is YA, but I really enjoyed reading it along with my 10-year-old son. The style is unique with a second person point of view, to me it offered the reader an opportunity to really understand and reflect on the main character’s struggles and conflicting emotions. The story will resonate with anyone who has ever felt out of place, confused or lost in a world you don’t quite understand. A little gem of a book, heart-breaking at times but unforgettable. Marjolaine, WA, 5 Stars

I loved A Glasshouse of Stars, it was full of sadness yet hope, discovery and magic. Beautifully written with a descriptive narrative that took you into Meixing’s world and had you feeling all the feels right alongside her. Meixing’s journey is of heartbreak then growing, discovering and learning to accept her new world and all it offers is richly described and left me thinking about my own experience of being 6 and starting new in Australia. Recommend for anyone wanting a bittersweet moving, magical read. Simone, WA, 5 Stars

When I first started reading A Glasshouse of Stars I really struggled with the story being told from a second-person perspective. I am very glad I persevered however as I ultimately found this a very inspiring and extremely moving book. This book was beautifully written and told a very important story. We never truly know what other people are going through or dealing with. It reinforced to me that it costs nothing to be kind and that simple acts of kindness can be even more powerful than we may ever know. This is a book not just for children. I really wish every teacher would read this book as it shows the impact that both ignorant and wonderful teachers can have on a child’s life. This book will stay with me for some time to come. Virginia, NSW, 5 Stars

I liked reading this book. I felt sad for Meixing but I liked that it ended happy. I liked the magic in the story. Zoe, SA, 5 Stars

A heart-breakingly beautiful story of courage and resilience, of grief and loss, and of finding your place in the world. Shirley Marr offers the reader a unique perspective into immigration through the eyes of a young soul, Meixing. We follow her as she not only navigates the New World and the New Language, but also her place in her family and her new home, Big Scary. This book is full of wonder, magic, and precious imagery that helps us understand Meixing’s journey and emotions. Ammie, NSW, 5 Stars

I found A Glasshouse of Stars to be a wonderful read. I read it from start to finish in a matter of hours without a break, that’s how engrossed I was. What an ordeal Meixing goes through, not only moving to a new country where she doesn’t speak the language but having to start at a new school wearing hand me down uniforms and then dealing with family tragedy. This story was such an emotional roller coaster. I was a bit of a misfit at school so I could relate to Meixing feeling different, forming friendships with two other misfits Kevin and Josh. I cheered along when Kevin stood up for Meixing, even though it resulted in him being sent to the Principal’s office, again! I love the magical Glasshouse that Meixing escapes to. It is her refuge where she can dream and feel safe. There are some powerful lessons for kids and adults alike to learn from this book, from how to treat each other with kindness no matter what our differences to learning to accept help without feeling shame. Most importantly though is to be yourself. Maree, QLD, 5 Stars

Meixing has moved with her Mother and Father to a new country. There is so much to learn and understand; a new language, customs, school, the neighbourhood and a big house. How can Meixing find her voice in this strange land with a language she does not understand? Why are other children in her class taking advantage of her or acting out this way? Who can she talk to? Enter the Glasshouse in the backyard of the big house. It’s a magical place where seeds of hope are planted and she can ponder the events of the day and find answers in her mind. Meixing also discovers the secret behind the magic of the glasshouse and who can access the magical revelations. The character of Meixing is an excellent portrayal of the inner thoughts and confusion felt by someone finding their way in a new land. The anguish and sorrow are poignant, along with the sting of the injustices Meixing met whilst trying to understand how this new society. A Glasshouse of Stars by Shirley Marr is a must for readers from junior to adult fiction. Merilyn, WA, 5 Stars

What a beautiful book. I love that it was written in the second voice…it made me feel like I was Meixing. Coming from Asian heritage, I could totally relate to this story and its cultural complexities. Oh and everyone needs a Ms Jardine in their life! Absolutely recommend this book…especially to young readers to show them how to embrace diversity and overcome adversity. Justine, NSW, 5 Stars

A beautiful book, suited perfectly to 2nd person narrative. I sometimes find books written in the 2nd person tedious, this was anything but. Heartfelt and emotional, whilst easy to read. I read it with my 8-year-old daughter who goes to a school with a very large ethnic population and she loved it, finding similarities and conversation points around a lot of her peers and how they might feel, knowing some have indeed immigrated from other countries. It was lovely to sit and discuss these things with her and hear the empathy and kindness in her for her fellow students. Great book. Sherridan, SA, 5 Stars

A lovely little story. I would have liked to read more about her real life and struggles in Australia rather than imaginary. Kathleen, NSW, 5 Stars

With her quirky and courageous characters, her wonderfully evocative prose and her infusion of magical realism, Shirley Marr conveys, to those Australians who have safely grown up inside their comfort zone, the experience of trying to assimilate into a new country, one with a different language, a different climate, different food, customs and culture, one far away from family and friends and everyone who looks and thinks like you do. And she does it brilliantly. A topical and important book for readers of all ages. Marianne, NSW, 5 Stars

What a beautifully written story, Meixing is just 7 years old when the family immigrate to Australia, unable to speak or understand English. She is bullied at school, her and two other students are given special English lessons. Things are looking better for Meixing but unfortunately tragedy strikes, (no spoilers) such a heartwarming book. Deborah, NSW, 5 Stars

I really enjoyed this story, it was well written and kept me in suspense until the end. Kathleen, NSW, 5 Stars

I read this brilliant book in just 3 days. As a child of immigrant parents, I can very much relate to the characters childhood school experience. Shirley writes with honesty in a way that makes the pages turn effortlessly. Her sense of fun and adventure makes this book exceptional to older adolescents and adults alike! Izabella, VIC, 5 Stars

A magical tale of how a young girl and her new friends, all from old lands, find a place in which they feel safe and are able to learn not only about themselves but each other. They struggle to find their place in the land whilst dealing with the grief and loss they feel. Together they are able to find where they belong. Louise, NSW, 5 Stars

I’ve never been an immigrant but I’ve been a teacher and a teacher-librarian. This is a delightful story that pulls at our heartstrings and offers us a window into the life of a child from a traditional Asian culture, and the difficulty of trying to fit into a new and entirely different culture. The problems Meixing faces are compounded by the fact that she is anxious, her mother does not read, nor can she speak English, and she’s suffering temporary mental health issues. These are not immigrants who look much the same as the locals, who came from a similar culture, have support and understand the new language. This is a breath of fresh air for middle school students, into the issues faced by some of their classmates. It also touches on bullying and white supremacy. I have handed it to an Asian student who has similar troubles. I hope it helps. Beautifully written. Nell, NSW, 5 Stars

Meixing Lim’s life is such a wonderous and eventful experience. Meixing and her family are refugees with little to afford. The Lim family find it difficult to fit into the environment of the New land alongside speaking the language, especially for Meixing when she is at school. Her confidence to move onward is incredible, but the weighing dread of Meixing’s worries pulls her down. She has no friends, knows hardly any of the New language and has no hope for her future ahead, until she finds her First Uncles old glasshouse hiding amongst their jungle looking backyard. Suddenly, Meixing’s worries and fears absorb into the magic of the glasshouse. From the perspective of how Meixing’s story is told; you are instantly put into the position how someone like Meixing would have felt. This is truly a heart-warming and sorrowful tale. Ruby, QLD, 4 Stars

Based on true experiences mixed with a little magical realism, A Glasshouse of Stars gives readers an insight into the struggles of immigrating to a new country; the language barriers, the racism, the loneliness and the pressure seven-year-old Meixing is put under to become a success and make her parents proud in the New Land. The use of the second person narrative was perfect. It allowed me to be transported right into Meixing’s shoes and connect with her on such a personal level. Among the unfamiliar and the darkness, the book is a place of comfort, hope and light, particularly in the form of neighbours, teachers and friends who encourage Meixing to reach her full potential amidst her struggles. Readers who have gone through or are going through experiences similar to Meixing will be able to relate and sympathise with the story. For others, it will educate them and allow them to empathise with not only Meixing’s story, but with friends and neighbours who have gone through a similar experience. Christine, VIC, 4 Stars

I very much enjoyed reading A Glasshouse of Stars by Shirley Marr and would recommend this book for middle primary school children. I liked that A Glasshouse of Stars was told from a second person’s point of view. This point of view invited the reader to come along on Meixing’s journey and be part of the story from the very first page. I felt engaged through this book to see how this unknown journey in a “New House” in a “New Land” would play out for Meixing, Ba Ba and Ma Ma. I could feel the second-hand clothes that were not quite right and finding the place you now call home to be very different from the old one that you left behind through the amazing writing by the author. I found the book to be an emotional rollercoaster and will admit there were a few tears shed while reading. Thank you to Better Reading for the opportunity to read and review an Uncorrected advance proof of A Glasshouse of Stars by Shirley Marr with such a gorgeous as well as inviting cover. Lisa, SA, 4 Stars

An interesting and beautifully written book. Some fantastic lessons to be learnt from this book about kindness and acceptance. Overall, I enjoyed A Glasshouse of Stars. Natalie, NSW, 4 Stars

I had reservations about A Glasshouse of Stars, partly as it is written for a younger audience and I found myself wondering whether my child self would have found this story interesting or if I’d actually have understood some of the issues raised. This book also received many glowing reviews which inevitably raises one’s expectations of greatness, but mainly it’s because the story, while centring on a struggling young immigrant school girl in a new land, is written in the second person, which is not my favourite perspective. However, the point-of-view does help convey the themes of displacement, inner turmoil and inner strength, along with eternal and universal hope through imagination, better and aids in the emotional investment in the main character. At times the narrative, being dreamlike or nightmarish, seems somewhat unbelievable and is difficult to follow, but the author has a way of beautifully turning a phrase and infusing life and colour into the inanimate with description that helps relay the underlying messages more clearly. Many of the more mature concepts are alluded to rather than spelt out which I think suits the younger audience and could provide a springboard for further, bigger, conversations. Well worth a read. Mary-Anne, QLD, 4 Stars

A Glasshouse of Stars is a captivating story of suffering, sacrifice, the importance of family and compassion. I wasn’t aware that the novel was targeted towards a younger audience until I began reading but was surprised at how poignant I found the subject matter and how enjoyable the novel was as a whole. The point of view was initially difficult to follow but proved key to portraying the unique feelings of confusion, apprehension and guilt felt by the main character in her journey immigrating to Australia with her family. I think this novel has much to offer for readers of all ages but particularly for the younger generation growing up in an ever-changing and diverse Australia. I wish such a novel had existed during my primary school years. Anna, QLD, 4 Stars

A Glasshouse of Stars shows you the hard times immigrants have to go through coming to Australia. It carries you through Meixing’s life as she has her highs and lows. As you read through the book you imagine what Meixing is going through such as racism and bullying. Meixing is resilient, kind, caring and inspires you to push through the hard times. This story will reach out to you in all different ways. Molly, QLD, 4 Stars

How delightful! Meixing arrives in a new country with her parents and a weight of expectation that she will complete school and become a doctor, bringing honour to the family. They move to Big Scary house and Meixing attends a school where she cannot speak or understand the new language. The book provides an insight into just how difficult immigration is and how we all need to be kind and teach our children to be kind. A thought-provoking happy, sad read showing the joy of family and friendship. A lovely book to read with your children. Thanks to Better Reading for an Uncorrected advance proof with the gorgeous cover. Karan, VIC, 4 Stars

Marr has written a very interesting book. I am wondering if it was based on her own life experience? She has managed to tell in detail how Meixing overcame many things and dealt with them in her own way. I feel this book would be a great resource for any person going to a foreign country to live, and having to adapt to a new lifestyle, culture and language. Annette, NSW, 4 Stars

A Glasshouse of Stars written by Shirley Marr will take you on a journey of sacrifice, hope and dreams. 7-year-old Meixing Lim and her family move from China to begin a new life in Australia. They move into a new house left to them by her mother’s brother who recently passed. Meixing names the house Big Scary in the New Land. Ma Ma is expecting a baby and her father Ba Ba is in search of a job. With limited money, skills and English being hard to understand they all find it quite challenging. Mr and Mrs Huynh are their neighbours who offer to help with food and support. When Meixing starts school she faces many challenges from being bullied by her classmates and her unkind teacher Miss Cicely being no support in her education, her parents expected her to get straight A’s but how was this possible? With so much struggle and tragedy striking the family, Meixing finds an escape when she discovers an old glasshouse in the backyard. With the ghost of her Big Uncle and a strange black and white cat, she finds solace in a whole new glorious world. This book is written in the second person, I feel whilst reading it picture yourself as a 7-year-old girl leaving everything behind in one life and beginning in a different country with different laws, different education, different cultural expectations and language. I loved the characters with all their different personalities, eccentricities and vulnerabilities. A Glasshouse of Stars is an emotionally intelligent and beautiful story with a gorgeous cover. Melissa, SA, 4 Stars

Meixing and her family come to Australia to try and find a better life. They encounter language barriers and when she starts at her new school Meixing meets a girl who pretends to be her friend but really is only after one thing. Meixing finds a glasshouse in their backyard and when she ventures inside her imagination runs wild. There she meets Big Uncle, the man who has left them the house they are living in and he helps her to see the beauty in what is around her and gives her hope. One day a terrible thing happens and Meixing’s world is turned upside down. Meixing goes through a roller-coaster of emotions and ends up in a special class with two other boys who have also come from another country and together they form a bond and become friends. They are often the target of bullies and together they realise that in order to move forward they need to be strong and not take what others say or do to heart. This book has hit close to home because I remember being back in the nineties when I too immigrated from an Asian country. Fortunately for myself I had learned English at a young age so was able to understand and adapt when I started going to school but I too was a target for bullying because I wasn’t blonde hair and blue-eyed. This book provides readers with an inside look at what it was like back in the day when racism was more prevalent and untalked about. It reminds me of the other side of what was seen in the movie romper stomper. Francis, NSW, 4 Stars

A Glasshouse of Stars shows that a little bit of magic can help build resilience to a complex range of issues including, migration, bullying, loneliness and death and also help build new relationships and hope. Gai, NSW, 4 Stars

I received A Glasshouse of Stars by Shirley Marr as an uncorrected advance copy from Better Reading. This is a quirky story written as an imaginative impression of real events which happened in a short period of time after the author immigrated to Australia with her parents. The imagination is a necessity as protection from reality as trauma after trauma tumbles over her. The story ends happily but really makes you feel very strong empathy for immigrants to Australia and the struggles they face. I did not like the ‘2nd person’s style, especially for a biography but otherwise an eye-opening story. Fiona, QLD, 4 Stars

I have found this book hard to review. A sad tale that needed to be told of going to a new country. No friends. No language…or very limited. Friendships formed, family reunited and the unthinkable, death. A little girl’s view on life, pressures and responsibility. She finds solace in the glasshouse with a very interesting cat, a place that can grow anything. Kerrie, NSW, 3 Stars

This book was just lovely and suitable for a wide demographic to provide insight into the mind of a child in her situation. A quick read. Belinda, NSW, 3 Stars

I tried really hard to like this book. Unfortunately, I found the characters frustrating and annoying. I just couldn’t enjoy the writing and the fact that the book is written in the second person. If written differently I may have enjoyed it a little and found it could have been a useful tool in primary school classrooms to educate children on diversity and acceptance had the characters tried to make an effort to make their new life work. Trudy, SA, 2 Stars

Not the book for me. I liked the concept but not the way it was written as if from a distance… reading other reviews I think it is likely me not being able to process this way. Have put aside to try again at a later date. Tracey, NSW, 2 Stars

Gave this to my daughter to read however she found it to be uneventful and wasn’t impressed with it. Recommended it for a younger audience than her age group. Kirstie, WA, 2 Stars

Meixing, together with her parents, has arrived in her new home, in a new country, where they don’t speak the language and don’t understand the customs. She struggles to make friends and fit in at school, and is embarrassed by her second-hand shoes and school uniform. Shirley Marr has uses her own experiences as a migrant child as the basis for this novel. She hopes that by sharing her story, by asking the reader to walk in her shoes, she will engender empathy for families who arrive from another country to settle in ours. I am torn by my response to this book. I applaud Marr’s reason for writing it: her message is important, however, I felt it was let down by her choice of using the second-person point of view. I found this enormously distracting and detracts from the telling of her story. Too many sentences start with ‘You’. My other issue is the use of magic realism. Again, I understood why Marr uses it to convey how Meixing copes with her new life, but I don’t feel it works at all. Why does her new house suddenly change in size? Why is there a cat that walks on its back legs? How does this help tell her story? Again, I feel it distracts, rather than enhances the book. I feel that younger readers will find it confusing – I did. I would love to hear that young readers love this book, as Marr’s message to show empathy and kindness to strangers is vitally important. Gaby, NSW, 2 Stars

This book, jarringly written in the second POV, is predominantly aimed at middle-grade readers and may help those, particularly from perhaps an Asian background, who emigrate to a different country with all the experiences of getting to grips with a different language, culture, customs, systems and suchlike, including the ghastly experience of racism and xenophobia. Meixing Lim is the young girl at the centre of the story who emigrates with her pregnant mother and father to a large house they have inherited from her uncle in the “New Land” as called in the book. Personally, I found the magical realism/surrealism and references to Asian ancestral spirits and beliefs to be weirdly perplexing and I found it hard to empathise with what I perceived to be her largely self-centred and ignorant parents. Accordingly, I can’t say that I particularly enjoyed this book sent to me by Better Reading but, if it helps people to be kinder and to help people assimilate more smoothly, then it will have added some value. Pamela, SA, 1 Star

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Synopsis

Meixing Lim and her family have arrived at the New House in the New Land, inherited from First Uncle who died tragically and unexpectedly while picking oranges in the backyard. Everything is vast and unknown to Meixing and not in a good way, including the house she has dubbed Big Scary. She is embarrassed by the second-hand shoes given to her by the kind neighbours, has trouble understanding the language at school, and with fitting in and making new friends. Her solace is a glasshouse in the garden that inexplicably holds the sun and the moon and all the secrets of her memory and imagination. Her fragile universe is rocked when tragedy strikes and Ma Ma refuses to face the world outside. Meixing finds herself trapped within the shrinking walls of Big Scary. Her parents said this would be a better life for them all, but it feels like the worst and most heart-breaking experience of Meixing's entire existence. Surviving will take all the resilience and inner belief of this brave girl to turn their world around.
Shirley Marr
About the author

Shirley Marr

Shirley Marr is a first-generation Chinese-Australian living in Perth and an author of young adult and children's fiction, including YA novels Fury and Preloved, and children’s novels Little Jiang and A Glasshouse of Stars. She describes herself as having a Western mind and an Eastern heart. She likes to write in the space in the middle where they both collide, basing her stories on her own personal experiences of migration and growing up in Australia, along with the folk and fairy tales from her mother. Arriving in mainland Australia from Christmas Island as a seven-year-old in the 1980s and experiencing the good, the bad and the wonder that comes with culture shock, Shirley has been in love with reading and writing from that early age. Shirley is a universe full of stars and stories and hopes to share the many other novels that she has inside her.

Books by Shirley Marr

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