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In Sight of Stars

Book review by
Mary Cosola, Common Sense Media
In Sight of Stars Book Poster Image
Sweet story of boy's breakdown recovery takes time to gel.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Information on art and artists, especially the life, troubles, and work of Vincent van Gogh. Many myths and fables are used to teach life lessons. New York City geography and sights factor into the story.

Positive Messages

You're not responsible for the happiness of other people. Reach out to those closest to you for help. Even in the darkest times, there's always a path forward.

Positive Role Models & Representations

In the hospital, Klee meets peers and professionals who help him, especially Dr. Alvarez and Sister Agnes Teresa. They're patient with Klee but also push him to deal with his issues. Klee's a good kid who's going through a bad time. Klee's parents aren't without their issues, but their love for him is clear. Sarah makes some bad choices, but she's patient and caring with Klee for the most part.


Klee injures himself, but it's never described in detail. A body dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound is described.


The relationship between Klee and Sarah is a major plot point. Klee talks about her body and hotness a lot. A few detailed make-out and sex scenes.


Teen characters swear, including "f--k" and variations, "s--t" and variations, "douche bag," "hell," "piss," "a--hole," "crap," "goddamned," "ass," "p---y," and "Jesus," "Christ," and "God" (used as exclamations).


A few products mentioned for scene setting, especially Hostess products Yodels, Twinkies, Fruit Pies, and Sno Balls, plus Advil, Mike and Ike candies, M&M's candies, Mercedes.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Klee is given many medications when he is first admitted to the mental hospital. Teens use fake IDs to drink at a bar. One teen uses peer pressure to get another to drink vodka in the morning. A big high school party is shown, with lots of kids drinking (but not any of the main characters).

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that In Sight of Stars tells the story of Klee, a teen boy who suffers a breakdown after his father's suicide. Through flashbacks while in a mental hospital, Klee slowly puts together how he ended up at such a low point. The book tackles family dynamics, mental illness, teen relationships, and the social nuances of high school. Characters swear ("a--hole," "f--k," "s--t"), and there's some drinking but no smoking or drug use, aside from psychiatric drugs. Klee's relationship with a girl figures into the story, including a few graphic make-out and sex scenes. Themes of honesty between parents and kids provide interesting discussion points for families, especially around how much kids need or deserve to know about what's going on with their parents.

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What's the story?

At the beginning of IN SIGHT OF STARS, Klee Alden has hit bottom after losing his father to suicide and being forced to move from his beloved Manhattan to a quiet suburb. He misses the close bond with his dad and their shared love of fine art. As the story unfolds between flashbacks and his present situation in a mental hospital, Klee begins to heal and piece together his memories of his father, information about his parents' relationship, and his issues with his girlfriend. He unearths some secrets and uncomfortable truths along the way and learns some big lessons about how to move on through the worst that life can hand you.

Is it any good?

This story of a teen boy grappling with deep emotional issues somehow ends up feeling flat. Klee, the central character of In Sight of Stars, is sympathetic, but he's not interesting or engaging enough as a narrator to sustain the reader's interest. Author Gae Polisner alternates the narrative between flashbacks and Klee's current stay at a mental hospital. It is an interesting approach, as the reader goes on a journey with Klee as he uncovers tougher and tougher truths about his life and family situation. Unfortunately, at the beginning of the book, we can't tell when he's hallucinating or when he's thinking things vs. saying them aloud. Polisner was likely intentionally highlighting Klee's state of mind, but it makes for confusing reading and it takes too long for the story to gel and hit its stride.

In Sight of Stars shines most when Klee does the hard work in therapy of seeing his parents for who they are. He learns the important lesson that we never really know what's going on with other people and that it's dangerous to project or speculate on the motivations and actions of others. His growth over the course of his two weeks in the mental hospital is uplifting and an enjoyable aspect of the book.



Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why many young adult novels and movies deal with mental or physical illness, like In Sight of Stars does. What others have you read or seen and liked? What's so compelling about these topics?

  • Lots of people deal with different types of mental illness, and many forms of mental illness are diagnosed during the teen years. If you were concerned about yourself or someone you know, would you know where to ask for help?

  • Have you ever made assumptions about the actions or motivations of people in your life? How often are you surprised by the real story about what they did?

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