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 neighbour, Gabriel Nash, to solve the mystery of the charming child. But the more time they spend together, the more questions they have. 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.
I was drawn to this book from page one. I loved the quiet backdrop of nature, the fantastical undertones in the plot, and the simple life lead by the main character, Jo, who is a biologist. Together, they created this magical land in my mind where anything seemed to be possible.
I enjoyed the first half of the book when Jo meets Ursa and the reclusive Gabriel Nash. The slow bond that forms between the three of them was so heart-warming that I didn’t even mind that it was improbable. Jo studies nesting birds and her lessons on how birds protect their progeny and feed them, where they like to build their nests, and how some birds get fooled into feeding hatchlings that are not their own were very engrossing.
In many ways, Where the Forest Meets the Stars is also about Jo and Gabriel nesting a soul that doesn’t belong to them. But unlike cowbirds that trick their hosts into raising them, Ursa’s technique is to make them fall in love with her.
The Jo-Gabriel romance arc started out to be a very sweet where two damaged souls come together to form a whole. This is the only book I’ve read where one of the main characters has had mastectomy and the other is an agoraphobic virgin battling with depression. So the romance was unique and interesting.
But Jo doesn’t ‘get’ his depression and makes assumptions that annoys Gabriel and the reader. I expected that she would eventually learn to be more understanding of his condition. To my surprise though, it is Gabriel who ‘overcomes’ his depression and agoraphobia due to Jo’s love. In fact, Gabriel overcomes all the problems in his life in a very short about of time because of Jo and Ursa. That is neither a realistic portrayal of depression nor great character development.
The resolution of Ursa’s mystery was clean and realistic. It was heart-breaking and heart-warming at the same time.
But this book suffers from the same fate that many books with happy endings do. When it comes to climaxes, one of my biggest pet peeves is the author bringing all the side characters together to end the book on a good note. Why am I suddenly being forced to read about all these other characters that I was not made to care about? In front of these characters, Ursa’s otherworldly charm that was not explicitly articulated throughout the book becomes a circus show. This bugs me more in a book like this where its main charm was its subdued nature and the minimum number of characters.
Overall, Where the Forest Meets the Stars was a good one-time read and a solid debut by Glendy Vanderah. I am looking forward to reading more of her work.
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