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Pub Date 01 Oct 2022 | Archive Date 03 Oct 2022

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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?

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...

Advance Praise

‘A beautifully written debut. Sarah Jane Butler explores the challenges of treading lightly in this modern world, the power of community and the process of recovering from a difficult mothering’ — Katherine May, author of Wintering

‘A beautiful tale of wandering and searching, full of gorgeous nature writing that illuminates our complex and varied relationships with the natural world. Starling reminds us that there are many ways to be free and wild, and we must find our own’ — Zoe Gilbert, author of Mischief Acts

‘Starling is both a hymn to the English landscape and an exploration of what it takes to live together and apart. Sarah Jane Butler writes with a visceral lyricism; she doesn’t so much observe the natural world as plunge us into its ditches, woods and rivers. A profound, gripping and deeply humane story about the choices we make in relation to the land and each other’ — Judith Heneghan, author of Snegurochka

‘Starling is a love letter to the natural world, a celebration of the threads that bind us to the land and to each other’ — Peggy Riley, author of Amity & Sorrow

‘A beautifully written debut. Sarah Jane Butler explores the challenges of treading lightly in this modern world, the power of community and the process of recovering from a difficult mothering’ — ...

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ISBN 9781914148170
PRICE $24.95 (USD)

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Average rating from 21 members

Featured Reviews

A beautiful, powerful story of life, loss and journeying. I loved Starling and read it over two greedy days. The author writes with such simple elegance and attention to detail, that I had to stop countless times to reread the beautiful language – ‘the high sky held a handful of light’, ‘she measured out words carefully as though she and Starling were running out of sounds’. This, on almost every page.

I was beckoned into the woods and fields of the story with the opening lines and held there until I put the book down. The plot unfolded at just the right pace, allowing me to hope that things would turn out for the better, but surprising me, for good and ill, when I least expected it. The story is one of loneliness, fear and uncertainty but also of friendship, hope and longing. It gave me a strong sense of the power of the land; of the strength of community; of both the ingenuity and hardships of a nomadic life.

Out at the end of September, Starling is the perfect, atmospheric read for the last quarter of the year. I loved it and would highly recommend it as a deeply thought provoking, beautifully written and satisfying story.

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*I received a copy of this book on NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for this opportunity*

Starling, a nineteen year old raised on the road and in the forests of England, suddenly finds herself alone after her mother, Mar, leaves without a word. Left by herself, Starling embarks on a journey of self-discovery and truth as she tries to find where she belongs, and with whom.

This book is beautiful, it almost reads more like poetry than prose. Butler is a lyrical writer, and Starling's journey is a long and winding journey. This is not a tale of a survivalist living off the land, but instead of a woman (who feels more like a girl) thrust into the world with no pretense or guide. There are those who care for her, despite her mother's cruel goodbyes, and Starling's story is one of accepting a home.

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Thanks to Netgalley, Sarah Jane Butler and Fairlight Books for the ARC.

Every once in a while, I find a book I know is going to get 5 stars from me within the first few chapters. Starling is one of them.

The detailed descriptions of the countryside made me feel like I was out walking past battered hedgerows and over streams. Food descriptions had me salivating and now I must find a recipe for raspberry flapjacks. I could smell woodsmoke, grass and foxes.

Starling is one of my new favourite fictional people. I want to be her friend. The storytelling is clever and the characters are all strong and well developed. Butler makes her novel so visually descriptive, it's almost like watching something on the screen.

I'm honoured to have had an ARC but will be buying a copy when it gets published It is, to put it simply, exquisite. I would 100% recommend that you get yourself a copy.

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Starling has been raised and lives off grid with Mar, righteous and angry at the world. That is, until Starling wakes to find Mar gone, without a word, one day. We travel with Starling as she finds her own way in the world, reconnects with old friends and figures out who she is without the overbearing presence of Mar. I found this a perfect summer read. A love of nature and the ebbs and flows of the seasons were beautifully interwoven into the narrative. Full of interesting characters and just enough intrigue to keep the pages turning without detracting from the emotional nuances of this tender coming of age tale.

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I loved this book.
Its about Starling who wakes up one morning in a van in a field, and her mother, Mar, is gone.
Starling who has always lived with Mar, is sure that Mar will come back and waits for her in the van.
Mar doesn't come back.
The story unfolds to reveal that Mar and Starling were living off the land and taking care of the earth.

With Mar out of the way Starling must find her own way and path in the world.

The book is gorgeously written about Starlings thoughts, feelings, memories.
The author took her time to describe all of the animals and plants along the way, I Truly felt that I was walking the same earthen paths that Starling was.

This book is all about finding one's own path in life, while trying to discover the truth. Not everything you are told is true.

I would highly recommend reading this coming of age novel to everyone.

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Starling by Sarah Jane Butler is a decent young adult coming-of-age novel. I say young adult because Starling has, for all intent and purposes, been kept sheltered from the outside world, and only with a change in her affairs will she be set free to blossom.
All Starling has ever known is a nomadic existence, travelling in a camper van with Mar, her strong-willed mother. But Mar has cut them off from their community, and this winter are stuck in deep mud in a wood, with no fuel, money, or friends.
One morning, without explanation, Mar leaves and doesn’t come back. Starling must learn to survive alone.
Starling showed grit, fortitude, and resilience whilst under extreme circumstances that at times were dire. This is not a survivalist book by any means because this is about a young girl coping with change.
The book is full of insightful observations. In life, surviving through the toughest of times and coping with change. The author handled these with flair and elegance.
The book was well paced throughout, never leaving its comfort zone, flowing gracefully. There are some poignant moments within the narrative, but the story is also interspersed with wonderfully written lyrical passages.
Starling is a well-written, well-plotted novel with some good turns of phrase, very evocative with vivid and vibrant descriptions.
Starling is a simple, straightforward story, uncomplicated but emotionally touching. Suffice to say, it made an impression.
Thank You, NetGalley and Fairlight Books, for the advanced copy.

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My Rating : 4.5⭐

“We are women who live needing nothing, needing no one. We are women who live in full connection with our mother earth. We will never betray her.”

Nineteen-year-old Starling has spent her life living off the grid with her mother traveling across the country in their camper van. Once part of a community of travelers, it has been a while that she and her mother have been on their own. As the story begins, we find them living in their van parked deep in the woods. Starling’s mother, Mar, is an artist whose paintings and artwork are often bartered for necessities. Though they have friends in the outside world and a community of fellow travelers that they have left behind, Mar is unwilling to be a part of any community - her fierce independence, preference for isolation and need for personal space override her social needs.

“This was Mar’s idea of heaven, a space under the trees with no one else for miles.”

Starling misses the friends she made in her “tribe” and is often tempted to contact them, (with a cell phone her mother does not know she possesses) but her love and loyalty toward her mother keep her from doing so.

“Starling had been leaving places all her life. Still, though, every time she arrived somewhere new she was like a sprig of mint in water–she couldn’t help but put out hopeful roots.”

Starling’s life changes when after a morning of foraging, she returns to their van only to find her mother gone. From what she can make out, her mother left with a packed bag and deliberately left her behind. After waiting for a few days only to be disappointed when her mother fails to return to the van, Starling ventures out on her own, braving the elements, walking and hitchhiking, initially hoping to find her mother in any of the few familiar places she might have gone to in the outside world but is unsuccessful in her search. She realizes, that for the first time in her life she is completely alone and must find a way to support herself. What follows is the story of a brave young girl, attempting to walk her own path and find her place in the world.

“Was she free now? Free to make her own life and find her own way? The world beyond the van was dirty and corrupt. It rejected her, as she rejected it.”

It took a while (almost the 30% mark) for me to adjust to the pace and structure of the narrative but after that point, I was absorbed in the story as it progressed and felt invested in Starling’s journey as she tries to make sense of her situation. The author eloquently describes Starling's thoughts, memories and her struggle to come to terms with her mother’s abandonment. We can feel how conflicted she is when experiences moments of happiness in a way of life that she has been conditioned to judge as wrong. At each point in her journey, we see Starling’s thoughts drift back to her life with her mother, and she is reminded constantly of the principles and convictions her mother has ingrained in her. (“People do not live in towns. They cling together, existing and no more, because they are afraid to live fully and freely as we do.”)The cynicism, distrust and commercialism she associates with life as a “townie” often holds her back from fully opening up to new experiences. She finds kindness but also experiences disillusionment, loss and disappointment – not knowing quite how to navigate her way around new people, places and emotions. In a corner of her heart, she harbors hope that her mother will return and they will be reunited. For the first time in her life she is alone , missing her mother, longing for friendship and a sense of belongingness on the one hand but also feeling suffocated and craving the solitude and sense of freedom living in the heart of nature afforded her.

“Starling wondered where she belonged now. Could she be woven into this place of streets and bricks and orange light, and people who let their plants die of thirst?”

Sarah Jane Butler’s prose is exquisite and her descriptions of nature are vivid and captivating. The author balances the poetic, descriptive writing in these segments with a retrained, often factual, style of storytelling (which, for some, might result in difficulty to connect with the character emotionally) when describing Starling’s thoughts and behavior. I found the narrative, which is presented to us from Starling’s perspective commensurate with the character and how she evolves through the course of the story. Given how Starling has been brought up in survival mode, its suits her character that her actions would be governed by her thoughts and convictions and lesser by her emotions, at least initially. Her emotional side comes into play gradually as she acclimatizes to her new circumstances. I also like that the author gives readers the space to figure out how they relate to the character and the story without overdoing it in terms of over-the-top sentimentalism or melodrama. In doing so , each of the characters comes across as well fleshed out and believable. Overall, I enjoyed “Starling “ by Sarah Jane Butler and would definitely be looking out for more by this author in the future.

Thank you, Sarah Jane Butler, Fairlight Books and NetGalley for the digital review copy of this beautifully –written novel. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.

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I absolutely loved this book. My imagination ran away with me as I travelled the roads and slept outside with Starling. I found the book to be beautifully written. Such a heart warming story. I became emotional at times as this book really touched my soul. Please, Sarah Jane, write a sequel. I need to know Starling had a happy life.
Thank you to Netgalley and the author for the opportunity to read and review this beautiful book.

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