Cover of In Sight of Stars by Gae Polisner. A field of sunflowers under a sky of painted stars

About the Book

Title: In Sight of Stars
Published: 2018

Cover Story: Paint Your Palette Blue and Gray
Drinking Buddy: Weathered Faces Lined in Pain
Testosterone Level: Soothed Beneath The Artist’s Loving Hand
Talky Talk: What You Tried to Say to Me
Bonus Factors: Awesome Nun, Vincent van Gogh
Bromance Status: Could Not Love You

Cover Story: Paint Your Palette Blue and Gray

Sunflowers. Just like Vincent’s. So…there you go, I guess. Doesn’t grab the eye.

The Deal:

Seventeen-year-old Klee (pronounced ‘Clay’) has had a rough year. His father killed himself (and Klee was the one who found the body). His mother moved him from New York City to the suburbs. He’s seeing a girl named Sarah, but something’s just not right. And then, after some mysterious event, he winds up in the ‘Ape Can’, the local juvenile mental facility. While there, he tries to sort his life out, while remembering his father, the frustrated artist, and trying to come to grips with his feelings for his mother and Sarah.

Drinking Buddy: Weathered Faces Lined in Pain

Moe from the Simpsons saying 'I don't wish you any specific harm'

I wanted to like Klee. He was a talented artist who’d already suffered too much. He’d been dealt a cruel hand, but he still kept on fighting. He’d do anything for Sarah.

At the same time, he was kind of a noodle. He’s seething at his mother, but never confronts her. He lets Sarah walk all over him. He misses his NYC buddies, but makes no effort to stay in touch. There just wasn’t a whole lot to get excited about.

Testosterone Level: Soothed Beneath The Artist’s Loving Hand

Yes, you have a girlfriend. Yes, you’re a tortured artist. Yes, you’re in a psychiatric facility after an attempt at self-harm.

No, that’s not exciting. Well, the hospital part was. But every time Klee flashed back to Sarah or his father, things became tedious. It was either Sarah brooding or his father discussing the art world and his own abandoned dreams. I wasn’t gripped.

And even the hospital left something to be desired. Even at a fancy private facility, it’s no fun being committed. I was expecting cruel guards, indifferent doctors, angry patients, and bad food.

I only got the bad food.

Talky Talk: What You Tried to Say to Me

Nothing was resolved. Klee constantly dangles the mysterious reason for his self harm in front of the reader, but never lets us in on it until much later, so we get that annoying ‘I know something you don’t know’ vibe. Then, when we do find out, it was nothing impressive. We never find out what happens to Klee’s derailed dreams of art school. Klee has some interesting fellow patients, but nothing ever happens with them. In fact, he doesn’t even say goodbye when he leaves the hospital. And what about the talking bird and the ghost of Van Gogh he keeps seeing when he checks in? Side effects from his medication? His spirit animals? Or is he really losing his marbles? We’re never told. They just vanish one chapter and are never mentioned again.

There was an interesting twist at the end, but there was much left unresolved.

Bonus Factor: Vincent Van Gogh

A field of sunflowers

Klee always admired Van Gogh, and in fact his life is similar to the Dutch artist’s: the frustration, the mental problems, the art, the…

Wait a minute. When Klee hurts himself, he cuts himself just under the ear. I just got that. Cheap plot device! Cheap!

Bonus Factor: Awesome Nun

The nun from the Blues Brothers

While in the hospital, Klee is befriended by Sister Agnes Teresa, a middle-aged dwarf nun. She’s a lifeguard, a board game fanatic, and someone who might just help Klee out of his funk. Hey, at least she’s doesn’t sing A Few of My Favorite Things.

Bromance Status: Could Not Love You

Sorry, I just couldn’t get into you. I guess it’s like modern art: I’m sure there are people who will appreciate you. Just not me.

Literary Matchmaking

Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, & Criminal in 19th-Century New York

If you’d like to read about a real historical New York mental hospital, try Damnation Island by Stacy Horn.

Sanctum (Asylum #2)

For an equally disappointing mental hospital book, read Madeleine Roux’s Sanctum.

How We Roll

And for a much better book about a tortured artist, check out How We Roll by Natasha Friend.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.