Cover Image: This Ordinary Stardust

This Ordinary Stardust

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

When I first heard about this book, I'll be honest in saying that I was very much intrigued, albeit somewhat morbidly, and also that I just felt.... this crushing weight in my chest. I felt compelled to request for and read this book, and I'm genuinely so glad I did, it may just be one of my top reads so far of 2024, non-fiction or otherwise. I truly felt for Townsend and the numerous trials and devastating losses he has faced thus far in his life. Anyone would, I'd think— it's absolutely unfathomable and also terrifyingly real. Life is short and unexpected in just how fleeting it truly is. If it were me.... I'm not sure I'd ever fully recover. And yet— this book made me cry. I cried not only out of sadness, but also from a sense of hopefulness. Part-memoir, part-field study and examination, the way Townsend writes about his background; his family; the work he and his wife did, both together and apart, in their careers as environmental scientists; and, ultimately, in how he came to terms in processing through and accepting his grief through a mixture of both science and spirituality is so honest, poignant, and beautiful. This book toes the very fine line of balancing both personal stories/anecdotes alongside technical/academic research & opinions and so there are some parts that do feel a bit disjointed or out-of-place in terms of narrative structure, but not so much so that it confused or disengaged my interest by any means. Overall, I found THIS ORDINARY STARDUST to be a very moving, inspirational, and important read, especially perhaps for those who may be experiencing trauma &/or grief and are looking for a different perspective on how to grow through it.

Was this review helpful?

This book is an amazing account of the one off chances of two family members developing cancer. One a young daughter and one a wife. And the harrowing story of how one husband dealt with these devestating occurrences and found a way to still live a life of meaning and purpose. This book held me in awe even in its heartbreaking moments. Truly beautiful.

Was this review helpful?

The message in This Ordinary Stardust is a powerful one. Things happen that are out of our control, a culmination of random events that we couldn't begin to put together as forming the cause of the bad things that happen. Other things we understand well, but we have no or limited ability to change them. Both Alan and his wife Diana are scientists, ones that are passionate and find pleasure in joy in exploring the world around them find the answers to questions unknown. But then the questions and search for understanding hit closer to home when first their daughter and then Diana are diagnosed with cancer. Both Alan and Diana believe that she and their daughter Neva have the ability to survive their diagnoses, but of course cancer doesn't work that way - from the experience of someone with a loved one that lost a battle with it at a relatively young age. At points the delves into unrelated scientific knowledge that Townsend has is incredibly insightful, especially the explanations about how becoming stressed and hyperfocused can actually make it more difficult to fight a battle like cancer. The chemical make-up changes as it battles the stress, something that doesn't happen when you're at peace with the things happening in your life. Sometimes while the science is interesting, fascinating even, it feels like a tangent too far removed from the very personal aspect of the battles the family is facing. It begins to feel like two different books that aren't quite woven together well enough, the book about a family's battle with cancer, and how different parts of science work explained by subject matter experts. Still, it's a valuable book to read, especially for those people facing trauma in their life that don't have a religious belief system to draw on for processing the circumstances and emotions they're dealing with. This is something that can be hard to process and frustrating for other people to understand. A complimentary copy of this book was provided by the publisher. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Was this review helpful?

A profoundly moving, beautifully written, and heartbreaking story, which shares the life of the author, his then 4-year-old daughter and his wife, and how their lives were changed in the blink of an eye.

When his daughter was 4 years old, she was diagnosed with life-threatening brain cancer. Not all that long after, his wife received a similar diagnosis, she was facing a different form of brain cancer.

Alan Townsend is a scientist, and while there are moments early on that share some of their scientific expeditions, this is a story about so much more than the science we were taught in school. There are moments when it delves into the science of nature, as well as the nature of science, but it’s so beautifully shared that I could almost visualize it. He also shares his thoughts on science and religion, and how they have more in common than most people think. You might think that as a scientist, that the writing would be more technical, but the prose is truly lovely and heartfelt.

This will undoubtedly be among my favourite reads this year.

Pub Date: 04 Jun 2024

Many thanks for the ARC provided by Grand Central Publishing

Was this review helpful?

I rounded up from a 3.5. I liked this book overall, and it's one of the best grief (or grief adjacent) books I've read, never (that I can remember) veering into trite and unhelpful commentary and advice. I enjoyed the mix of science and memoir in this book as well, it was refreshing- especially the author's willingness to reflect on the limits of science, especially given that science is implemented by and described by and decided by people- and really only those in power. I didn't think I would find such a useful discussion on the limits of science, and its commonalities with faith traditions in this book- but I did, and I was grateful, as a fellow scientist (and fellow griever). One critique I had is hard to describe without spoilers- let me just say I disagreed with one of the author's primary conclusions. The other critiques are perhaps simpler- I sometimes struggled with following where we were in time, and I wished I knew the author himself better. He painted a strong picture of Diana and Neva, and yet there were key decisions he made that I didn't know the reason for, and times I wished I better understood what he was experiencing- again, as a fellow griever.

Was this review helpful?

I'd like to thank NetGalley and Grand Central Publishing for providing access to an ARC for This Ordinary Stardust, by Alan Townsend. This was an excellent book, full of scientific insights as well as how a pair of scientists deal with extreme medical adversity. Dr. Townsend describes the diagnosis and treatment of a craniopharyngioma (pediatric brain tumor) his 4 year old daughter, followed closely by the subsequent diagnosis of glioblastoma (adult brain tumor) in his early 40's wife. I felt as though I was sharing the shock with them, as they moved step by step through diagnosis, treatment, relapse, and grief (no details to spoil your read). As a retired physician and aging grandparent, I learned quite a few life lessons from this story - staying present, maximizing the life you've been given, and staying scientifically curious without being destroyed by regret and sadness. Ultimately, I found the book to be uplifting and instructive, and one of the best "dealing with illness" books I've read. Those who've read "When Breath Becomes Air", and found it worthy of their time, will find that this story compliments the messages found therein, and provides additional guidance and insight. I most highly recommended it

Was this review helpful?

Dr. Alan Townsend and his wife Diana worked as environmental scientists. The author's life is turned upside down when both his wife and his four-year-old daughter are diagnosed with unrelated, life-threatening forms of brain cancer.

Dr. Townsend writes poetic descriptions of the work that he and his wife did as environmental scientists. I especially enjoyed the trip they made to the author's home state of Hawaii.

When Dr. Townsend's four-year-old Neva was diagnosed with brain cancer, the family was determined to get her the best medical care possible. She received brain surgery that slowed down the growth of the cancer. Later, she had another surgery that completely removed the cancerous tumor.

When Diana was diagnosed with an unrelated form of brain cancer, the family was again focused on finding the best doctors and treatments available. Unfortunately, Diana did not survive her illness.

This book describes how science and spirituality combine to deal with grief and to celebrate a life well lived. The author has written a beautiful love story that describes the happy years he spent with his wife, the struggle to find cancer treatment for both his daughter and wife and his wife's eventual death. This is an amazing story of hope and resilience.

Highly recommended!

Was this review helpful?

I was lucky enough to win an e-ARC of THIS ORDINARY STARDUST by Alan Townsend through a Shelf Awareness giveaway. Thank you for the early look, and have a safe and happy Valentine's Day!

Was this review helpful?

A tough topic, but I found myself looking forward to each beautifully-written page. Thank you to the author for following through on Diana's request.

Was this review helpful?

This book reminded me of if "The Year of Magical Thinking" met "When Breath Becomes Air" - A scientific twist to life and grief. I knew this one was going to probably make me cry, but I didn't know I'd be sobbing - so prepare yourself!

Alan Townsend recounts the statistically (almost) impossible odds that his wife and daughter are both diagnosed with different and very rare brain cancers and his coming to terms with how to approach and deal with the grief involved. The uniqueness of this book is how the author, a scientist, uses science and the (lack of) science to come to grips with the horrible circumstance that his family is dealt. He uses anecdotes from his research to help him bring solace and understanding with the horror he is grappling with and finds hope in the fact that all living things are connected. He brings more meaning and science to the the very popular and cheesy quote - "We are all stardust."

I highly recommend this one, it will probably be on my favorites for 2024. I think everyone can appreciate the way in which the author weaves science into his reality. The writing was very beautiful and think it will become a popular one upon release.

Thank you to Grand Central Publishing, NetGalley, and most importantly Alan Townsend for granting me an ARC.

Was this review helpful?

A scientist exploring grief while dealing with his daughter and wife's individual cancer diagnoses. It's an interesting approach. What stood out for me is the interactions with doctors, family and friends. The descriptions of the vacations and travel, I can see the importance of connecting to one's environment but that wasn't the parts that pulled me in.

Was this review helpful?

Alan Townsend’s book “This Ordinary Stardust” is far from ordinary. This book will definitely be a contender for my favorite book of 2024. A moving account of his wife’s and daughter’s cancer diagnoses and outcomes intertwined with an exceptionally interesting glimpse into their relationship and careers as scientists. So masterfully written I felt like I was there on scientific expeditions and in the doctor’s offices and hospital waiting rooms. While, obviously there are heartbreaking moments, this book is so much more than another sad story. “This Ordinary Stardust” is an incredible reminder to live your best life!

Was this review helpful?

I loved this book. I knew it would break my heart, I knew I would cry, but it was so beautifully written, it was hard to put down.

I loved the way the author described how things were all interconnected. WE are all stardust. The other thing that really stood out for me was the way in which he described chaos theory. How we, as humans, try to control things that our outside of our control, we NEED/WANT predictability.

With unabashed love for his wife and child the reader goes along with the author to the hospital, to the doctor appointments. Finally we witness the last breath.

I wept and cried and wanted to rage. The author did a great job of just letting the raw emotions wash over himself and the reader.

I hope that the author continues to write, as a way to mend/grieve.

It was like attending an opera, the writing was lyrical.

Was this review helpful?