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9 October 2023 TETHERED TO OTHER STARS by Elisa Stone Leahy, HarperCollins/Quill Tree, October 2023, 320p., ISBN: 978-0-06-325548-7


“How can people be so heartless?

How can people be so cruel?

Easy to be hard

Easy to be cold”

– Galt MacDermot, James Rado, and Gerome Ragni (1967)


“‘Hijabi?’ Mal asked.

‘Someone who wears hijab,’ Yasmin explained. ‘And, yeah, there may be bullies, but I knew that before I decided to wear this.’ She tucked the ends of the pink scarf over her shoulders and looked across the rink toward the rowdy boys. ‘Can we sit back down for a minute?’

‘Have you ever had anyone mess with your hijab?’ K.K. asked as they skated back to their booth.

‘No. I’ve heard about that happening before, though.’

Yasmin slid into a seat, biting her lip. ‘I guess that’s why it kind of shook me when I felt someone grab at me.’

‘That would scare me too,’ Mal said.

Wendy hesitated, imagining what that must be like. She always tried so hard to dress so she wouldn’t be noticed. 

‘Do you ever think about…not wearing it?’ Wendy asked. ‘I mean, if it doesn’t feel safe?’

‘Wearing hijab isn’t what makes me feel unsafe,’ Yamin said firmly. ‘Bullies make me feel unsafe.’”


Halfway through TETHERED TO OTHER STARS, one of those seventh grade “rowdy boys” does something utterly despicable. Something that caused me to clench my hands into tight  fists and breathe hard. It’s happened numerous times since I began reading the book. That’s how real the reprehensible, racist behavior in this powerful tale for middle graders and middle schoolers feels.


Last year, in sixth grade, Wendy Toledo tested her way into the heralded Leopold Preparatory Academy in Ohio. It was a good distance away and was going to mean daily marathon  bus rides to and from middle school. But, by the time seventh grade rolls around, her parents have moved Wendy and her brother Tom far away from their old town, where ICE raids had recently led to friends, both young and old, disappearing without a trace. Now Wendy lives in the supposedly all-American town in which the school for gifted and talented students is located.


But once school begins, there are bullies at the Academy whose racist  parents are scornful of non-whites attending the school. They believe (without a shred of evidence) that such students must have gotten a free pass into the school, and must be diminishing the quality of the institution. 


Terrified by the behavior they are soon enduring at the hands of the bullies, several targeted female minority students band together to watch each other’s backs. K.K. is Black. Etta is gay. Yasmin is Muslim. And Wendy, who is obsessed with astronomy, is a dark skinned young woman of Hispanic descent. 


Brett, a cruel young thug, who lies like a rug, and masquerades as a charming, blue-eyed leader type, is the son of an ICE agent. He’s the wrong kind of leader. And as I type this, I can’t help but want to do something to that scary, racist pig-of-a-father of his.


“‘Laws aren’t always right,’ Wendy repeated. Laws like slavery, she thought. Or laws about where you belonged just because of where you were born.


The story teaches us that people are not illegal. Behaviors can be illegal, but people are not “illegals.”


A stellar (pun intended), unforgettable, coming-of-age story, filled with some jaw-dropping, thought-provoking twists, TETHERED TO OTHER STARS is one I’ve already been talking up to everyone. 


It’s certainly not possible to permit an endless number of people to move to the US or anywhere else. But the Golden Rule teaches me that there are far more humane ways to help those fleeing any number of deadly situations around the globe than the harsh, heavy-handed  tactics that are frequently depicted here.


As the grandson of hard-working immigrant peasants, TETHERED TO OTHER STARS got me right there. I hope it will motivate young people to contemplate these complex geopolitical issues and, hopefully, some will be inspired to raise their voices and participate in finding a better, more humane way.


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.pbworks.com





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