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Heart-twisting and hopeful, bursting with big feelings and gentle magic…destined to be read and loved for generations and held close in many hearts (including mine).”Jessica Townsend, New York Times bestselling author of the Nevermoor series
“Gorgeous.” —Booklist (starred review)​

A moving coming-of-age story about one girl’s bravery and imagination in the face of the unknown. Perfect for fans of Front Desk and Mañanaland.

Meixing Lim and her family have arrived at the New House in the New Land. Her parents inherited the home from First Uncle who died tragically and unexpectedly while picking oranges in the backyard. Her Ma Ma likes to remind Meixing the family never could have afforded to move here otherwise, so she should be thankful for this opportunity.

Everything is vast and unknown to Meixing in this supposedly wonderful place. She is embarrassed by her second-hand clothing, has trouble understanding her peers, and is finding it hard to make new friends. Meixing’s only solace is a rundown greenhouse, that her Uncle called his glasshouse, at the far end of her backyard that inexplicably holds the sun and the moon and the secrets of her memory and imagination.

When her fragile universe is rocked by tragedy, it will take all of Meixing’s resilience and bravery to finally find her place of belonging in this new world.

Chapter One: House CHAPTER ONE House


You have arrived for a better life at the New House in the New Land. It has been a long journey, the first time you’ve ever been on an airplane. It was nerve-racking when they checked the suitcases at the airport, even though your family has next to no possessions, let alone anything to hide. You didn’t know what big meant until you saw the city with the glass towers that touched the sky, the suburbs with houses so close together. You tell yourself everything is going to be fine. The hardest part is over. You made it.

You’re all too scared to go inside. First Uncle could be in there. He insisted on a funeral as per the local customs of this land—one that possibly didn’t include the ritual of telling him he was now dead, so he might have come home unaware.

Ma Ma’s knuckles are white from grasping the yellow protective talisman with both hands. Ba Ba pretends superstitions are for ignorant people. He inserts the key into the door. He doesn’t turn the handle.

The rag doll that Ma Ma made out of an old rice sack is clasped tightly in your arms—you are much too old for her anymore, but she’s all you have. You stare up at the huge white columns propping up the crumbly tofu triangle of a roof. The long drop down to earth from the winding stone staircase you have climbed creates the same scary feeling in your stomach.

You turn instinctively toward Ma Ma’s side as you used to do, to bury your face inside the folds of her dress. But now that she is huge with child, she has taken to gently nudging you away, so you pull away before she does.

“I didn’t expect it to be… a mansion,” says Ma Ma.

“Houses in the New Land are all supposed to be big. I have been warned,” replies Ba Ba.

You stare up, disorientated. You don’t know if the house is truly too big or if it’s only big because you’re used to living in a cramped space.

Long fingers of cactus reach all the way up to the second floor, covering the walls like hands on a face. Balanced on the roof at the very top is a third story, a single room with a semicircular window like an open eye.

A light inside the window flickers on and then off again. A wink. No, it is just your imagination. But what a strange thing to imagine. You look over at your parents, but they don’t seem to have noticed.

The cold winter wind blows, an icy chill that none of you have ever felt before. The amber pane in the middle of the front door is frosted and blind. Ba Ba rattles at the handle, which appears to be stuck. Suddenly, it gives way and you all tumble into a musty darkness.

It takes your eyes a while to adjust. Soon you realize you are staring at a world made completely out of dark brown wood and motes of dust that float past your nose like magic.

Ba Ba turns the hallway light on, and everything is a yellow glow. He takes the talisman off Ma Ma and sticks it outside, above the front doorframe, where the wind flaps it all about. You think the protection spell written on it is for babies, because magic is childish, but you are relieved all the same.

Inside the house, on the brown brick wall facing the entrance, Ba Ba places an octagon with a piece of mirror in the middle called a bagua. To reflect bad luck away. Later he will go outside, light incense sticks, and thank First Uncle for your new home.

Ma Ma is told to go straight to the bedroom and have a lie-down, even though she protests. She says she will have time enough to rest after the baby is born, because for a whole month Ma Ma will not be allowed to do anything. Not even have a shower, even if she complains her hair is oily or her armpits are stinky, not one.

The only thing she will be allowed to do after the birth is rest. Your Aunties told you that there is nothing more important than looking after the baby—and why would Ma Ma want to be doing anything else, anyway? That, and the fact that Ma Ma has to eat lots of stewed pork knuckle. Ginger and sweet black vinegar, too, but mostly pork knuckle.

This is how things are. Like the bagua on the wall. Like the fact your parents seem much more relieved now that the bagua is up. Like the fact you have come to this New Land to start a new and better life. You don’t question it.

You have to be a good girl.

Free to explore by yourself, you find the kitchen is completely orange. The bathroom is lime green. The rest of the house, though, is that dark wooden brown. You don’t think these are the prettiest colors in the world, but they’re the colors New House is, and you are determined to get along. Because when you look down at your skin, you know it is darker than the people in this New Land, and when you see the plait of hair over your shoulder, you know nobody here has coarse black hair like yours. Maybe you look frightening and different.

“I’m sorry you didn’t get to meet First Uncle,” says Ba Ba. “It would have been nice to all live together. There’s definitely the space for it.”

He has a newspaper open and is struggling to read beyond the meager handful of words he knows.

“Can you understand this?” he asks.

LABORER NEEDED

NO EXPERIENCE REQUIRED

You shake your head. You become aware that you haven’t said anything since this morning, when you realized it was the day to get onto the plane and leave your old home forever. You get the sinking feeling you’re going to find it hard to talk much again.

The words are too big anyway, and the only word you can read (which is “no”) doesn’t help at all. Ba Ba rubs his chin. You are both in the same boat. Ba Ba gives up and turns the page to see if anything makes more sense on the other side, but it is the same story.

Now that you have seen everything down here, you are determined to go upstairs.

You think of that window.

It blinked once at you.

Perhaps if you find the room, you might find the eye and the face and the part of the giant behind it, looking through the entire house like a camera. Maybe this house was built by giants. That would explain why it’s so big; otherwise, why would First Uncle have all this space for one person?

“Don’t wander too far, Meixing,” your father calls. “I might need you for something else.”

New House has lots of different tiles—small multicolored patchwork in one bathroom, white with yellow daisies in another bathroom, and brown-and-orange circles in the kitchen. Everywhere else, uneven squares the color of baked earth undulate and shift like sand. The house wears all of them like scales.

Tiles are something you are used to. The tiny apartment you lived in was made of white uniform tiles that were everywhere, even the bedrooms.

“Fit for the hot weather. Easy to sweep,” Ma Ma had said.

Upstairs, though, there is something strange on the floor. Shaggy, spongy, and dirty, with round patches of dark burgundy here and there. This, you presume, is New House’s fur; the marks, her spots.

You stretch out and place your bare foot on top, trapping the fibers in between your toes. You don’t know what you were expecting, perhaps a growl. Instead, you feel a vibration. It could be your imagination, it could be the house settling, it could be a purr.

First Uncle has made a bedroom for you, but it is only half finished because he had a heart attack while picking oranges out in the backyard, one week before you were all to arrive—this is the awful news First Uncle’s lawyer told Ba Ba. This is why only one of the walls is painted. One perfect pink square, like a sheet of joss paper.

But you have your own bedroom.

You no longer all have to sleep together, two mattresses on the floor pushed together like an ill-fitting puzzle. Feet against head, head against feet.

In comparison, New House is a palace. You should feel like a princess, but you instead feel more like an intruder who might at any moment be told to go back home. You place your rag doll on the bed, with the superstitious worry that it will be rejected by some unwritten rule of this inner universe. Nothing happens to the doll. She slumps against the pillow and you are relieved.

As if sensing that you need a distraction, a door creaks somewhere beyond your bedroom. This prompts you to go out and investigate. The house appears to watch you as you wander down the hall and find a pale pink door you swear you didn’t pass before. You stick your head inside.

The ceiling in this room is not in line with the height of the other ceilings. It is three times as tall, to fit what you discover is an entire playground complete with a rocket, a slide, and a spinning wheel. It is too much.

You run away in fright and bolt back down the hallway. You stop at your bedroom door, your hand over your heart. It is beating like mad. How big is this house? How scary?

Big Scary.

The house slowly closes the door you have left open; the creaking sound, a sad whimper.

“It’s not your fault you’re scary, but it’s not my fault I’m scared,” you whisper to the house, the first words you have said all day.

There is a tapping noise along the hallway. Big Scary is composing a long response.

“If you’re angry about me being here, know that I wish I wasn’t here either.”

You shut your bedroom door behind you and sit cross-legged on the bed, staring out the window into the backyard. You see waist-high weeds and a broken-down house made of glass. You don’t see any orange trees. The orange trees were all First Uncle ever talked about in his letters and on the phone. About watering and pruning and what type of animal poo was the best and when and how to apply it.

On the fence sits a black-and-white cat, wondering if she is brave enough to jump down into that long, wild grass. She looks at you and you look back at her. She winks and then jumps back to the safe side of the fence she came from. You rub your eyes in surprise, and then you rub them again. Looking all around you with blurred vision at these strange new surroundings, you wish you could jump back to safety too.
A Reading Group Guide to

A Glasshouse of Stars

By Shirley Marr

About the Book

When Meixing Lim’s First Uncle dies, she and her family move across the ocean to live in his big, strange house in the New Land. Far away from their homeland, things are really hard for Meixing and her parents. They struggle to understand the language and culture of the New Land. At school, the other children take advantage of Meixing and laugh at her hand-me-down clothes and lunchbox full of foods from her homeland. When tragedy strikes, things get even worse. Meixing is scared and confused, but help turns up in unexpected places, including the old run-down backyard greenhouse that First Uncle called his glasshouse, where First Uncle used to grow oranges. Will the magic Meixing finds there and elsewhere help her find her place in the New Land?

Discussion Questions

1. What are some of the ways that Meixing’s life changes and challenges her in the New Land? Have you ever moved to a new place? How did your life change? How did you adjust?

2. Why do you think the author chooses not to specifically name the New Land or the Old Land where Meixing came from?

3. Why does Meixing call her new house “Big Scary”? Do you think this is an accurate name? Explain your answer.

4. What are some of the ways that people share food with one another in the novel? Why do they share their food? What can someone’s food tell us about their background and culture? Are there particular foods that are important in your family or culture?

5. Meixing says of her father’s work clothes, “The overalls tell a story—with paint stains, engine grease, dried cement, and fabric burns—of all the jobs Ba Ba has ever had a go at.” Do you or someone you know have clothing that tells a story? What is the story?

6. Ma Ma tells Meixing, “‘You don’t want to grow up and do a hard job. You want a good job where you work in a clean office as someone important, like a doctor.’” Why do you think this is so important to Ma Ma? How do these expectations make Meixing feel? What expectations do the adults in your life have for you? How do they make you feel?

7. Meixing often wishes that she wasn’t so different from the other children around her in the New Land. Have you ever felt like you didn't fit in? How did you cope with that feeling? What advice would you have for Meixing?

8. How is Meixing’s Auntie Ailing different from the rest of Meixing’s family? How does the family treat her? Why do you think that is? What do you think of their relationship?

9. Ailing tells Meixing that “It's not so bad to be a misfit.” What do you think she means by this? What might be great about being a misfit?

10. Meixing becomes friends with Kevin and Josh, two boys who have also come to the New Land from far away. How do Meixing and her friends help one another through the challenges they face at school and at home? Who are your good friends? How do they help you?

11. Meixing calls the drawings she does “a bit of her heart.” What do you think she means by this? What do you have in your life that you would call a bit of your heart?

12. In Ms. Jardine’s class, Meixing, Kevin, and Josh spend a lot of time drawing picture books and comics. Why do you think Ms. Jardine encourages them to do this? What do they like about drawing?

13. When Meixing, Josh, and Kevin plant seeds in the glasshouse, it shows them scenes from their pasts. What do we learn about each of them from these scenes? Were you surprised to learn what they and their families had been through? Do you know anyone who has had to face challenges in order to immigrate to a new country? What would you do to welcome someone to your school or neighborhood?

14. Meixing's mother changes when they move to the New Land. She is tense and sad and does not want to be close to Meixing. Why do you think the move to the New Land is so hard for Ma Ma? How does this make Meixing feel? Why can it be tough to talk about these kinds of feelings?

15. When she eats lunch with the other girls, Meixing doesn't want to open her lunchbox because she “know[s] it's not going to contain anything like the white-bread sandwiches the other girls are eating.” What would you say to Meixing if you were eating lunch with her? Have you ever felt this way? Why do you think it can be hard for people to accept things that are different from what they are used to?

16. Things constantly change in Meixing’s new house, Big Scary: rooms appear and disappear, for example, and the walls glow. How do those changes relate to what Meixing and her family are feeling? How does the house help Meixing cope with the challenges she faces in the New Land?

17. Meixing says, “When Big Scary is feeling sad, she shrinks. When she is happy, there is no limit to how big she can get. I have realized she is only a reflection of ourselves.” What does Meixing mean by this? How is the house a reflection of the people in it? How does your home reflect the people who live there?

18. When Ma Ma and Meixing go to the grocery store, they are confronted by a gang of boys who call them terrible names and tell them they should “go home.” How does this experience affect them? What are some other examples of racism that Meixing and her friends and family encounter in the book? Have you ever witnessed or heard about someone being treated poorly because of the color of their skin? What can you do to support racial equality in your community or classroom?

19. When Meixing finds the bag of groceries Mrs. Huynh leaves after the encounter with the gang, she says that her “heart is aching. But in the best way.” What does it mean for your heart to ache in the best way? Have you ever felt like this?

20. Ma Ma tells Meixing that her name means “beautiful star.” She tells Meixing, “‘To me, you will always shine the brightest in the dark.’” What do you think she means by this? Can you find other examples in the novel of Meixing shining in the dark? Do you know anyone who shines the brightest in the dark?

21. Meixing watches a pink cocoon form on her window and is convinced that her father will emerge. When the butterfly emerges instead, Meixing realizes, “It is not your father. It is you.” What does she mean by this? In what ways has Meixing emerged from her own cocoon over the course of the story? Explain your answer by giving examples from the book.

22. Compare how Meixing feels about her new home at the beginning of the book to how she feels at the end. How have her feelings about the New Land changed? What has gotten easier for her? What or who has contributed to this change?

23. The novel is written in second person, where the narrator is referred to as “you.” Why do you think the author made this choice?

Extension Activities

1. An immigrant is a person who moves to a new country, like Meixing and her family do. Interview someone who has immigrated to a new land from their original home country. Write a list of questions to ask them, such as: Why did they decide to immigrate? What was the experience like for them? What did they find challenging? What do they like about their new home? What do they still miss about their old one? Did their family come with them, or are they still in their home country? If you aren’t able to interview someone, you can use the internet to read children’s immigration stories, such as https://migrantchildstorytelling.org/the-stories/.

2. Throughout A Glasshouse of Stars, the characters share food that’s important in their families and cultures. Meixing's Ma Ma teaches her aunt to make a kind of small cake called kueh. Mrs. Huynh brings noodles, spring rolls, and rice dishes to Meixing's family. Meixing's friend Josh brings her olives from his mother. Ask an adult in your life about the food that is important to their family heritage. Perhaps they will teach you how to make one of those foods or tell you a good story about a memorable time they cooked or ate the dish. If you’d like, you could also find a recipe for kueh or spring rolls, like the characters in this book cook, and try making it yourself!

3. Ms. Jardine encourages Meixing, Kevin, and Josh to draw picture books and comics that tell the stories of their own lives and of the things they wish for. The hero in Josh’s story can read any book ever written. Draw your own picture book or comic that tells a story about your life or something you wish for. Think about what you’re revealing in the art as well as the text. For example, Meixing uses mostly blue for her picture book. What colors best express the emotions you want to express in your drawings?

4. Imagine you are Meixing at the end of the book. Write a letter to a girl who has just moved to the New Land, giving her advice about how to handle the challenges she will face. What should she do to help herself adjust to her new home and make friends? What else would you want her to know?

5. A Glasshouse of Stars is part of a genre of literature called magical realism. Create a poster explaining what magical realism means. What unique features do magical realism books have? What elements does it add to the story? What are some other examples of books or stories in this genre?

Chris Clark is a writer and reading teacher who lives with her family in coastal Maine.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit simonandschuster.net or thebookpantry.net.
Photograph by Jessica Wyld

Shirley Marr is the author of Little JiangFury, Preloved, and A Glasshouse of Stars. Shirley lives in Perth, Australia, with her family. Learn more at ShirleyMarr.net.

* "A gorgeous meditation on the immigrant experience, the nebulous idea of home, and the beauty and sorrow found in every life and person."

– Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

"A Glasshouse of Stars is heart-twisting and hopeful, bursting with big feelings and gentle magic. This is a special book from a powerful, compassionate new voice in children’s literature, destined to be read and loved for generations and held close in many hearts (including mine)." 

– Jessica Townsend, New York Times bestselling author of the Nevermoor series

"A Glasshouse of Stars is a rare and beautiful masterpiece; deeply heartfelt, dreamily magical, and glitteringly hopeful. I adored it!"

– Sophie Anderson, author of The House with Chicken Legs

"Poignant and beautifully told. I loved this book."

– Melina Marchetta