Sometimes before I start to read a book, I’ll open it to a random page somewhere near the middle and read a few lines. I’m not sure why, and most of the time it makes no sense because I don’t know what’s going on. But still, sometimes I find hidden gems or a line that gets me hooked, and it makes me more excited to read it.
When I did that with Glendy Vanderah’s Where the Forest Meets the Stars, I came across a passage that spoke about what it meant to really go all the way with someone you love, even when you know you’ll end up with your heart broken. And being someone who is afraid to do exactly that, the words moved me. I somehow instinctively knew that this book would change how I looked at things, show me the silent strength in vulnerability, whilst demonstrating that getting close to darkness doesn’t take the light out of us.
A mysterious child teaches two strangers how to love and trust again.
After the loss of her mother and her own battle with breast cancer, Joanna Teale returns to her graduate research on nesting birds in rural Illinois, determined to prove that her recent hardships have not broken her. She throws herself into her work from dusk to dawn, until her solitary routine is disrupted by the appearance of a mysterious child who shows up at her cabin barefoot and covered in bruises.
The girl calls herself Ursa, and she claims to have been sent from the stars to witness five miracles. With concerns about the child’s home situation, Jo reluctantly agrees to let her stay—just until she learns more about Ursa’s past.
Jo enlists the help of her reclusive neighbor, Gabriel Nash, to solve the mystery of the charming child. But the more time they spend together, the more questions they have. How does a young girl not only read but understand Shakespeare? Why do good things keep happening in her presence? And why aren’t Jo and Gabe checking the missing children’s website anymore?
Though the three have formed an incredible bond, they know difficult choices must be made. As the summer nears an end and Ursa gets closer to her fifth miracle, her dangerous past closes in. When it finally catches up to them, all of their painful secrets will be forced into the open, and their fates will be left to the stars.
There are so many incredible aspects to Where the Forest Meets the Stars and it touches on so many important and real issues that people have to deal with in their real life. It’s brave, it’s strong, and it’s stunning. Vanderah gives us a story that reminds us that no matter what devastation goes on in our life, there is always something we can be happy about and something to celebrate.
I decided to reach out to Vanderah on GoodReads to ask how this complex but beautiful story came to be, and to try and understand the deeper message of the book.
Vanderah said: “Thanks so much for letting me know you enjoyed my book!
“Many people and situations inspired the characters and plot. The main idea came to me after I watched a movie called ‘Pan’s Labyrinth.’ In that story, a little girl gets immersed in a strange fantasy while she’s going through a harrowing situation.
“I loved the idea of fantasy helping a child deal with trauma. I decided to set the story in my familiar world of bird biology. (I used to work as an avian biologist.)”
When reading Where the Forest Meets the Stars, I felt that the whole message of the book was reflected in that one passage that I spoke about earlier. A beautiful paragraph that somehow managed to sum up the meaning of the story in its entirety.
I felt the message that Vanderah was trying to get across was about trying to live your life as fully and immersed as possible despite the fact you could get hurt and facing the vulnerability that loving entails.
“When I knew my mother would be dead in a few months, I had two choices . . .” She looked at him. “I could distance myself from the pain or get closer to it. Maybe because I’d lost my dad without getting a chance to tell him what he meant to me, I decided to get closer. I got so close, her pain and fear became my own. We shared everything and loved each other like we never had when death was some distant thing. In the end, part of me died with her. I’m not recovered from it even now, but I made the conscious choice to enter the darkness with her. Everyone I know who’s lost someone they love has voiced regrets—they wish they’d done this or that or loved them more. I have no regrets. None.”
― Glendy Vanderah, Where the Forest Meets the Stars
After asking Vanderah, she confirmed that this, among other things, was a deliberate message in Where the Forest Meets the Stars.
Vanderah said: “The messages you found in the book are right on! And yes, I did want to write a book that helped readers feel hopeful about cancer, depression, family dysfunction, and childhood trauma. I’ve experienced those things myself or gone through them with friends or family.”
A powerful story about love and loss, Where the Forest Meets the Stars is not a book to be missed.