#BeneathWanderingStars by @ashleecowles #guestpost and #review @meritpress

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After her soldier brother is horribly wounded in Afghanistan, Gabriela must honor the vow she made: If anything ever happened to him, she would walk the Camino de Santiago through Spain, making a pilgrimage in his name. The worst part is that the promise stipulates that she must travel with her brother’s best friend–a boy she has despised all her life. Her brother is in a coma, and Gabi feels that she has no time to waste, but she is unsure. Will she hesitate too long, or risk her own happiness to keep a promise? An up-close look at the lives of the children of military families, Beneath Wandering Stars takes readers on a journey of love, danger, laughter, and friendship, against all odds.

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*Want to learn more about the Camino de Santiago? Join Ashlee Cowle’s newsletter and get this free resource, Gabi & Seth’s Guide to Camino Cuisine!

*Already read the book? Discuss it with others by downloading these free Book Club/Classroom Discussion Questions!

Mama Says:
This emotional book will be a great addition to any middle grade and ya library, at home or school.  It’s a great story of overcoming prejudices and fears, family bonding, grieving together and alone, and finally learning what you’re capable of in the face of overwhelming odds.  Cowles gives us such gorgeous scenery after the sterile environment in which the book opens, and Gabi’s attitude does a 180 as well.  I enjoyed the journey she took, both inside and out, and would absolutely feel that this book could help younger folks understand what it’s like to live up to promises, and what it can be like having a military family.  Though there are some darker subjects referenced, nothing is too graphic for kids older than 13 and this is a clean read overall.

4 stars and my thanks to the publisher for the review opportunity!

Special Guest Post from Ashlee Cowles:

Would you walk 500 Miles?

I only walked 150 miles, but even that was enough to inspire a story. People often ask where I got the idea for my debut YA novel, Beneath Wandering Stars, and usually I refer to my own upbringing as the daughter of a U.S. soldier (Gabi, my protagonist, is also an Army “brat”), but there were other personal experiences that contributed to this story.

One was walking the Camino de Santiago. Or part of it, at least.

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If you haven’t heard of the Camino de Santiago (or just the “camino” for short), you’re not alone. North Americans aren’t as familiar with this 2,000 year-old pilgrimage route across northern Spain—a cultural and spiritual trek that has seen a resurgence of interest among Europeans in recent decades. I only learned about the route after studying abroad in Spain during college when I took a history course on medieval pilgrimage. A few years later, in May 2011, I bought my first pair of hiking boots at R.E.I. and spent almost two weeks walking this ancient route with people from all over the world.

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It was magical—one of the best travel experiences I’ve ever had, and from it Gabi and Seth (my two main characters) were born. Readers and reviewers of Beneath Wandering Stars often comment on how authentic the details and characters in the story feel, and I’m sure that has something to do with the fact that aspects of both those things were drawn from real life. I definitely met people as diverse and quirky as the characters Gabi and Seth encounter along “the way,” and I also tried to recall my own emotional rollercoaster as I described my heroine’s inner and external journeys.

Also, there’s just something about lukewarm showers, hostels that perpetually smell like feet, and the constant availability of cheap red wine that sticks with you many years later. Spain is a beautiful country and I enjoyed the spirit of comradery among those walking the camino, but my favorite aspect of the journey had to be how alive and awake it made me feel—perhaps because of the lack of creature comforts (minus all the amazing food and cheap wine).

For a few long days of walking without a phone, without email, and without a to-do list, I was able to focus. To pay attention to everything that truly matters. By the end of the pilgrimage, I knew writing fiction was what I wanted to do more than anything, and by the time I reached the route’s destination—the city of Santiago in the northwest corner of Spain—I felt like I had a story worth telling.

The details of that story weren’t fleshed out yet—those didn’t come until later. Yet I knew I wanted to write a story about real, imperfect human relationships and real, imperfect life—as well as the journeys of love and discovery that each of us must make if we are to experience a life truly worth living.

So would I walk 500 miles? You bet. 150 was just a warm-up.

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Ashlee Cowles is a high school teacher who grew up an Army “brat,” and subsequently worked with a nonprofit that supports teens in military families. She holds graduate degrees from Duke University and the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and teaches literature and philosophy. As a student, Ashlee studied abroad in Spain and walked part of the Camino de Santiago.

 

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