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Reviewed by Kyra Johnson
Opening sentence
The day I found out I was a donkey was one of the best days of my life.
Catch A Falling Star is the prequel to Eileen Merriman’s beloved Catch Me When You Fall, which was published in 2018. Having read the latter - along with many other of Merriman’s books - I was immediately drawn to this new novel. It tells the story of Jamie Orange, an opera-loving teenager, before the events of the sequel, Catch Me When You Fall. Jamie navigates through friendships, relationships, school, musicals and his own hobbies at speed; this takes a toll on his health and he discovers something towards the end of the book which will change his life forever.

The opening line of the book was ‘The day I found out I was a donkey was one of the best days of my life’. The context to this is that Jamie had just found out that he got the part of Donkey in the school’s upcoming musical, Shrek. While he was happy he got one of the leading roles, he was disappointed that he didn’t get to play Shrek, as this would mean he would get to play alongside his crush, Frankie. She is in a relationship with one of Jamie’s best friends, Ari, and has no idea that Jamie is interested in her. This is one of the things that sits in Jamie’s mind constantly, and at some point during the book things start to look up for him in this sense. Will he finally get to be with the girl of his dreams?

Alongside relationships, Jamie runs amok trying to complete schoolwork while simultaneously trying to compose his own musical about a time traveling vampire. This is actually a bit of an easter egg which the author has managed to sneak into the story… If you have read Eileen Merriman’s Eternity Loop series then you will know exactly what I am talking about! Anyway, Jamie would often stay up into the late hours of the night writing songs or lines for his musical, as he believed he didn’t need much sleep. As mentioned earlier, this lack of sleep and hyperactivity takes a serious toll on his health and gets progressively worse as the plot unfolds. Tension and stress builds at home and school, with Frankie and friends, and ultimately in his own mind. So much so that things take a drastic turn right towards the end of the story, and is what causes Jamie’s condition to finally come to light.

I am never disappointed with Eileen Merriman as an author. Although I found this book a relatively easy read in terms of diction, plot and chapter length, there were still layers to this book. I loved how Merriman incorporated the use of symbolism in different parts of the book, whether this was deliberate or not. For example, Jamie being cast as Donkey in the school musical was a very accurate representation of Jamie himself. He is a humorous and cheeky person, just like Donkey. Another example of symbolism - which was much more subtle than Donkey - was the continuous reference to the Phantom of the Opera. To me, it felt as though Jamie’s mind was filled with phantoms because of his condition. This shows that at times, he was unable to keep a firm grip on reality, which caused him to fall to the phantoms of his mind near the end of the book. Have a read to find out what I mean by this!

There are many aspects of the book that I favor. I adore the dialogue Merriman set up in some scenes - the funny banter between Jamie and his friends really reminds me of my friends and I at school. Being only a year older than Jamie, this book is quite relevant to me and other teenagers. It is a very good reflection of teenage lives, especially when looking into the different members of Jamie’s friend group. Each of them, in a way, represent some of the different types of teens in today’s world. The overall message of this book is that you always have to consider what someone else is going through. You never know what is happening in their lives, in their head. Remembering this helps us to be more understanding and empathetic of their actions, even when they are in the wrong or completely out of order. Linked to this is the issue of self harm and suicide which is often induced because of social media or society in general.

I would reccommend this book for 15 years and up, as there aspects of the book related to depression and suicide which is troubling for younger readers. Shout out to the author for putting a ‘where to get help’ section at the end of the book. Despite these themes, I love this book and how amusing the characters are with each other. It is a very intriguing book that certainly raises awareness about mental health, especially in teens today. 4/5 stars - give it a read!

- Kyra lives in Greymouth.
Publisher: Penguin Random House New Zealand
ISBN: 9781776953400
Format: Paperback
Publication: 2018
Ages: 15+
Themes: Young Adult, Mental Health, Fiction