CM . . . . Volume XX Number 23 . . . . February 14, 2014
Your Constant Star tells the story of 17-year-old Bev having a baby and giving it up for adoption. The story begins in the point of view of Bev's childhood friend Faye, a Chinese girl adopted by Canadian parents. Bev gets in touch with Faye out of the blue and asks her to come with her when she interviews potential adoptive parents. Then the point of view moves to Bev as she visits hopeful couples with Faye. Bev's boyfriend, Mannie, is unhappy about her decision to give up the baby, and Bev is frustrated with his attempts to prove he's responsible enough to take care of a family. The couple Bev chooses comes to the hospital with her when she gives birth, and she signs the papers giving her son to them. Mannie's is the next point of view. He asks Faye to tell him where the adoptive parents live, and he parks his car on their street and watches them for days while he smokes pot. Finally he gets to see his son. Although he had initially considered contesting the adoption, he signs the papers giving up his rights. Then he steals a car and goes joyriding with Bev and Faye; they smash into a house, and all three end up in the hospital. Bev goes to her mother in Vancouver without saying goodbye; Mannie goes to jail; the point of view returns to Faye in an epilogue showing that she visits Mannie in jail.
The three main characters in Your Constant Star are not particularly likeable on first meeting. As self-absorbed narrators of their inner life and opinions, they are almost unrelentingly hostile, often for no apparent reason. Faye is bored of her "happy ho-hum" life, obsessed with a Russian exchange student she made out with once and never heard from again, tired of her friends, and irritated with her "keener parents" who are endlessly worried about her cultural integration. She doesn't particularly like Bev and feels awkward about both the pregnancy and the adoption process.
Bev is abrasive and manipulative, but it's because she has a plan, and she's determined to carry it through. She expresses hatred of her parents and mockery of her boyfriend and her social worker. It's clear she's terrified, although she never admits it. Mannie is just confused. He wants to be a man and doesn't know how to go about it. Of the three of them, he has the most messed up childhood to escape from, and he doesn't seem to be succeeding.
With all their flaws, the three narrators jump off the page with terrifying realism. They are teenagers to make any parent or guidance counselor cringe in recognition. Hasiuk doesn't flinch from adolescent anger and frustration, and it makes for an uncomfortable read. Bev, Mannie and Faye are hard to forget.
Your Constant Star plays with ideas of family and parenthood and identity. Readers piece together the three protagonists' family histories from disjointed memories, flashbacks and dreams, and it's often hard to tell the difference, making the narrative difficult to parse at times. Hasiuk's theme seems to be that the truth of what happened in the past matters less than what we make of it in the future; it's a hopeful philosophy, but Mannie, Bev, and Faye may or may not have figured it out.
The novel raises more questions than it answers, leaving the reader wondering whether Mannie and Bev will be able to turn their lives around. If there is any sort of happy ending, it's that baby Olivier escapes being stuck with two hapless teenagers as parents, and that Bev and Mannie still have a chance to grow up. The tentative friendship between Faye and Mannie at the end offers a glimpse of hope for both characters. Bev abandons them both, and is abandoned by the narrative, but she did right by her child, and maybe she doesn't hate her mother as much as she protests she does. Faye gets no closure about her own past but has a little more insight into why she night not need explanations after all.
Your Constant Star is a novel for older teens who want realism with no preachiness. There is no graphic sex, and the swearing is relatively mild, but frank descriptions of pregnancy and sexuality and the vague resolution of the plot might make it less appealing for younger readers. It could certainly be discussed in a high school literature class. It's a novel that stays in the mind, like a splinter.
Kim Aippersbach, a writer, editor and mother of three, lives in Vancouver, BC.
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