- Quintessence by Jess Redman
Redman, Jess Quintessence. Farrar, 2020 [384p] Trade ed. ISBN 9780374309763 $16.99 E-book ed. ISBN 9780374309770 $9.99 Reviewed from galleys Ad Gr. 4-6
Moving to a new town is stressful enough in its own right, so Alma has been keeping her panic attacks secret, worrying that her new schoolmates will think she's weird in addition to being the new girl. A mysterious Astronomy Club flyer, the ShopKeeper of a derelict antique store, and a quintescope—a telescope that shows quintessence, a kind of glowing trace of self-ness—draw Alma out of her shell and into a quest to return a fallen Starling to its place in the sky. The cooperative search for the four pure Elements needed to restore the fallen star enables Alma to make some new friends and empathize with the Starling's displacement and loneliness, re-sparking her own sense of internal "Alma-ness." The dialogue is sometimes overly earnest, and the quest-plot-as-metaphor is effective but not exceptional. Where Redman's (The Miraculous, BCCB 9/19) writing shines is in the portrayal of Alma's mental health and its effect on her sense of self and on those around her. Alma's new friends plausibly react better to her panic attacks than her well-meaning but clueless parents, who gradually come to terms with the fact that she can't heal herself just by trying harder to fit in. The novel affords age-friendly conversations about anxiety, and though these are narration-heavy, they'll be reassuring, especially to kids struggling to articulate their own feelings in the face of lingering stigma about mental health.