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Book Review: Aster's Good, Right Things by Kate Gordon

Book Review: Aster's Good, Right Things by Kate Gordon

Book Review: Aster's Good, Right Things by Kate Gordon

10 February 2021

Tasmanian author Kate Gordon explores teen mental illness, family estrangement, religious legalism, neglect and single parenting in Aster’s Good, Right Things.

Reviewed by Jessica Morris

Setting a novel around teen anxiety is no small task, but Tasmanian author Kate Gordon does a remarkable job in Aster’s Good Right Things.

The clincher is that you immediately fall in love with the character of 11-year-old Aster, who lives with her single father in small-town Tassie after her mum upped and left. And through her commentary, we are given a lens into the complex yet beautiful world, of a child who just wants peace.

It can be tempting to list out symptoms when it comes to acknowledging mental illness – perhaps as a way to enhance the complexity of a character or show the reader what mental illness actually looks like. But Gordon takes the more authentic path of revealing every facet of Aster’s personality and struggles through the story.

So we learn about her obsessive-compulsive need to do the ‘good right thing,’ early on – and only later find out she is living this out so she will be ‘good enough’ for her mother to return.

We learn about her intense anxiety and need to please at school, ostracising herself from her peers and self-deprecating from her lack of self-esteem.

And we learn about her depression, when she explains how she and her father trade drawings of flowers to explain their feelings on the days she can’t get out of bed.

But there is so much more to Aster – and this novel, than just mental illness.

Gordon shows us the inner strength, beauty and resilience of this courageous girl in every sentence. This is enhanced when she makes a new friend Xavier, who says he deals with the ‘black dog’ (depression) – something her father also experiences.

And it is also revealed when she chooses to overcome her fear and befriend the ‘bully,’ Indigo Michael, a girl who experiences neglect and is in the foster system.

Where does faith and religion come into this? Well, much like real-life experience, it is an underlying feature to Aster’s need to please. This is most prominent when she talks about characters in the Bible who selflessly serve others with no regard for themselves – causing her to constantly punish herself for any good feeling, thought or consequence. It is an excellent and organic representation of how legalistic theology can affect all of us.

I would recommend this novel to young teens experiencing anxiety as it shows they are not alone in their internal world. But this is also an invaluable resource for parents, carers and ministry leaders who want to better understand kids who wrestle with mental health issues. Without putting a band-aid of healing, it reveals that people can live a rich, fulfilled life even in the throes of anxiety or struggle. And that is priceless.

Aster’s Good Right Thing is available now from major bookstores.

If you need help, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
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