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Starbright and the Dream Eater

Starbright and the Dream Eater

by Joy Cowley

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There is a new deadly illness on Earth.

Starbright Connor is beginning to wonder why everyone in Claircomb has gone so wuzzling mad over some mysterious sickness that is probably just a media scare.

Early symptoms suggest disturbed sleep patterns.

Starbright thinks spindle sickness is something that happens


There is a new deadly illness on Earth.

Starbright Connor is beginning to wonder why everyone in Claircomb has gone so wuzzling mad over some mysterious sickness that is probably just a media scare.

Early symptoms suggest disturbed sleep patterns.

Starbright thinks spindle sickness is something that happens only to other people, until the day her best friend, Mark, falls asleep and won't wake up.

In five years there will be no place to run to.

Now Starbright must strike out on her own. But how is atwelve-year-old supposed to save the world?

But why, suddenly, the big wahoo on spindle sickness? Everyone had talked for years about it, a virus disease in remote South America, the in Africa, Australia. People got tired and went to sleep and didn't wake up. How could it be here, less than thirty miles away? Nah. Wasn't possible. An outbreak would be too unreal for words...

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
Starbright Connor is a lively, bright twelve-year-old who delights in creating her own vocabulary to fit the situation. Spindle sickness has come to the area; people fall asleep and are not able to awaken, eventually dying from this incurable malady. As friends and family become ill, Starbright, taking clues from her retarded sister/mother, deduces that she is the one who will have to save them from the Dream Eater, an alien life force that is spreading death and destruction all over the earth. While an enjoyable science fiction title, the sister/mother/Esther combination is a bit confusing. Winner of the 1999 New Zealand Junior Fiction award. 1998, HarperCollins, Ages 9 up, $14.95. Reviewer: Mary Sue Preissner
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-A bizarre science-fiction tale set in the present. As the story begins, a midwife assists in delivering a baby born to Esther, a brain-damaged teen. Twelve years later, several residents in the area are stricken with the mysterious "spindle sickness," in which victims are tormented by horrible nightmares, fall into a deep sleep, and never wake. Starbright Connor, the child born in the opening pages, cannot grasp the concept of nightmares. She can control her dreams and guide them according to her wishes. As panic over the infectious disease mounts, the midwife returns to inform Starbright of research that suggests that it is not caused by a virus as suspected but rather by a "space parasite" that feeds off living energy. Evidence seems to indicate that Starbright is the one individual with the ability to defeat the alien force. At first, the girl is incredulous, but is gradually convinced of her powers. In an exciting final confrontation, she triumphs over the Dream Eater just in time to save her loved ones. While the story is certainly unique, readers may find it difficult to suspend disbelief. Further, the conclusion, in which the epidemic is conveniently wiped from everyone's memory, is a bit too neat. However, the more realistic elements of the story are well developed. Starbright's relationship with Esther is particularly moving, and the life lessons she learns from her help to inform and empower her. An acceptable title for readers preferring fantasy that is firmly grounded in human emotion.-Ronni Krasnow, formerly at DC Public Library System, Washington, DC Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Kirkus Reviews
An alien predator that strikes through dreams threatens all humanity in this contrived but suspenseful import from the versatile Cowley (RedEyed Tree Frog, 1999, etc.). Spindle Sickness, a mysterious plague that begins with nightmares and ends in death, has struck several of Starbright Connor's schoolmates. She learns of a widely ridiculed message purportedly sent through time and space by the "Guardians of the Universe" decades before. This message has warned of an alldevouring danger that can be countered only by a "Bright Star" who is without fear. Having always been able, to a certain extent, to control her dreams, Starbright finds that only she can resist the Dream Eater's attacks. As the spread of the disease brings public anxiety and local quarantines, off she hies to do battle, in a series of dreamscapes, against an enemy who proves as wily as it is powerful. Thanks to unexpected help from her braindamaged older sister (who, in a pointless, badly fumbled subplot turns out to be her mother!), Starbright discovers that just confronting the Dream Eater with love rather than fear or anger vanquishes it so thoroughly that time itself rewinds, settling on an alternate "overlay" in which the creature never existed. Though not up to the standards of such terror classics as Neal Shusterman's Eyes of Kid Midas (1992) or Margaret Mahy's Changeover (1984), this will still provide readers with some unnerving moments and a resourceful, selfconfident heroine. (Fiction. 1113)

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.77(d)
Age Range:
9 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The nurse ran across the lawn, blowing on her hands and making breath smoke in the still night air. Already the bottom steps of the porch were white and slippery with frost. She steadied herself to look at the number on the wall of the house. Yes, this was it: two storied, in need of paint, lights behind the curtains. Far above the roofline, the sky was as dark as forever and glittering with a million stars. Somewhere distant, a dog howled, and the sound threaded itself through the street like a thin tinsel ribbon.

For months, the nurse had known about this event. Every word of the prediction had been engraved on her mind by her brother, Jacob, but now that the time was showing itself, the details came as a surprise. She clasped her bag firmly, stepped onto the porch and raised her hand.

The man opened the door before she could knock, and in an instant she was inside the hall, wrapped in warm golden light. He was a thin young man with red hair tied in a ponytail, pale freckled skin and anxious eyes. He wore a purple knitted jacket that did not suit him, and he talked in a soft hurried voice as though he were running out of words.

"She's well on the way. It's two weeks early, you understand, and Mrs. Bridgeman's out on a case. It's Mrs. Bridgeman she's been seeing."

"That's all right, Mr.–Mr. Connor. I'm Miss Tietz from the Well-Care Agency. I realize that your wife has gone into labor a little early. That's not a complication. Is there somewhere I can take off my coat–"

"Oh no!" He grasped her elbow. "Not my wife. It's Esther. Ourdaughter."

"Your–" She stopped, remembering the rules of the agency. No irrelevant questions or comments. All the same, the prediction had not given this information. She stared at him.

"She's fifteen," the man said. "I'm sorry, I forget my manners. Let me take your bag. I'll get a hanger for your coat. There's a bedroom off the hall if you want to change, and the bathroom's this way–"

The nurse was used to changing in a hurry. She fastened the last button of her blue-striped uniform as she followed the nervous young man up the stairs.

"Obviously the agency didn't supply all the details," she said. "The baby's father–"

"We don't know who the baby's father is," he said. "I don't think Esther knows. We don't talk about it." He looked back at her. "Esther is a uniquely gifted girl with special needs."

The nurse stopped. "She's handicapped?"

"That's not how we describe Esther," he said. "She is a girl of rare beauty. She has talents that others don't share."

They were now halfway up the stairs, and she could hear voices, one of them high-pitched and struggling with pain. She asked the question that was filling her with doubt. "Is the baby to be adopted?"

The man seemed surprised. "What?"

"I am sorry, I need to know–"

"Certainly not!" Something in his manner made him seem older, stronger. "Miss Tietz, we do not give away our own."

The nurse smiled, reassured. "I only asked because it makes a difference to the way we present the baby to the mother. We don't encourage bonding if the baby is going to another home."

"No, no! It has never been considered!" He put his hand on her shoulder and steered her toward a door at the top of the stairs. "Please hurry," he said.

It was a child's bedroom with dolls, teddy bears, a fluffy rabbit on a bookcase, a poster of white doves above the bed. The base of the bedside lamp was a clump of colored coral, and above it, fish painted on a shade turned slowly with the heat. In a chair on the other side of the bed sat a plump young woman with black hair and eyes so dark that they mirrored the room. She was holding the hand of the girl-child in the bed.

I am growing old, thought Miss Tietz. They all look impossibly young.

She introduced herself and then attended to the girl, who was tossing her head on the pillow and whimpering. Esther looked much like her mother, except that her hair was a rich auburn and her skin as freckled as the sky outside. Her eyes were narrowed in pain.

"Esther, I'm Lena Tietz, your nurse. Can I feel your tummy?" She pulled back the covers, her voice offering bright comfort. "Let's see what this fine baby is doing." Her hands, too, were confident and very gentle as they made a routine examination. Yes, the girl was into second-stage labor and the baby was in the correct position, no apparent complications, thank goodness.

"Everything's perfect, honey," she said. "You're doing wonders."

The mother was even more nervous than the father. "Is she–I mean is everything–"

"Fine. Just fine. The baby's where it should be. Plenty of room in the birth canal." She smiled at Esther. "If all my clients were like you, I'd be a very happy nurse."

Thirty years of experience in deliveries had given Miss Tietz a manner that made childbirth a busy celebration for most mothers. A few baby jokes, and the panic in the eyes of the woman and her daughter disappeared. Esther even managed to laugh between the contractions that were coming so fast, there was scarcely a pause between them.

"There's a mighty frost outside. You'd wonder why a baby would be in a hurry to leave its warm cozy mother on such a night. But have you seen the stars, Esther?" She turned her head toward the window. "Like a fireworks display!"

At once, Mrs. Connor stood up and pulled back the curtains. The darkness beyond the window was masked by the steam inside the glass.

"A treat of a sky," the nurse said. "Whole constellations so close you could touch them."

The girl gasped, "Esther name–it–name–star."

"Absolutely, my dear," said the nurse. "Esther means star, and you're a star in every sense of the word. Isn't that right? Now give a big push."

Meet the Author

Joy Cowley is the award-winning author of over 40 books for children and young adults, including The Silent One, which The New York Times Educational Supplement hailed as a book "that will not be forgotten" and The Horn Book called "brilliantly evocative." Ms. Cowley is also the author of Singing Down the Rain, illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist, and Starbright and the Dream Eater. Ms. Cowley lives in New Zealand.

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