Starling by Sarah Jane Butler


Starling can trap a rabbit, cook a meal from a hedge and hear a bailiff coming from a mile off. All she has ever known is a nomadic existence, traveling in a camper van with Mar, her strong-willed mother. But Mar has cut them off from their community, and this winter they’re stuck in deep mud in a wood, with no fuel, no money and no friends.

One morning, without explanation, Mar leaves and doesn’t come back. Utterly alone, Starling must learn to survive without her mother and build a life on her own terms.

An offer to stay with an old friend draws her into a more conventional way of living – but can rootless Starling ever find a place where she truly belongs?

My thoughts

To begin with, while the book description is accurate, it is deceptively simple. Starling is a complex character, raised wild and semi-feral in her thought processes. This is a result of having been brought up by Mar, someone who is an incredibly strong presence in the book. Mar’s deep mistrust and avoidance of humans has rubbed off on Starling to the point where Starling also trusts no one. So when Mar abandons Starling without warning Starling is completely adrift and with nowhere to go and no one to turn to except for the childhood friend she hasn’t seen for many years and whom she also feels abandoned by.

Starling is not always an easy person to like. Even knowing why she does the things she does it is hard to see her hurt others, sometimes unknowingly and other times intentionally. Being forced to live fully with other people for the first time in her life without Mar’s judgemental presence helps Starling to see, for the first time, that perhaps Mar’s perception of the wider world and those who live in it might not be entirely reliable.

This is a very insightful book with characters that get under your skin. One part of me hopes for a sequel, but the larger part wants to leave the story exactly where it ended and let my imagination continue to fire.

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