Cosima Unfortunate Steals a Star (Cosima Unfortunate, Book 1)
Written by Laura Noakes & illustrated by Flavia Sorrentino
Reviewed by Sandy Driessens
Cosima Unfortunate … yes, that was the name given to the heroine of this story. Cos has lived all her twelve years in the “Home for Unfortunate Girls’ where she is called Number One. In this school for ‘defective’ girls, each girl is referred to by number by the cruel managers of the institution, Miss Alvira and Mr Eustace Stain. However, with three of her friends – Diya, Pearl and Mary, they retain their names and execute daring escapades to try to improve the lives of the girls who share their “Workhouse”. Led by the feisty Cos each girl has a skilled role to play and, sometimes their adventures go to plan … and sometimes they don’t.
When Cos learns that a certain explorer, Lord Francis Fitzroy, has offered to buy twenty of the girls from the school … an offer that the Stains, who are deeply in debt, can’t refuse the girls are terrified. Will those with families ever see them again? Will they be experimented on or worse, die? They have to make a plan to buy their freedom and in a strange twist are given help from an unexpected source. An engineer, Aggie, offers to take all the girls to see Lord Fitzroy’s “Empire Exhibition” and while there, they hatch a plan to steal and sell “The Star Diamond Tiara”. Cos also makes a new friend there, Miles, a street urchin, who helps her decipher some information that could lead to finding something she yearns for … her family.
Laura Noakes, a writer and historian from Bedfordshire has created a story that is dear to her heart. Set in 1899, the story is almost Dickensian in the way it portrays the terrible conditions in which unwanted children lived in London. Noakes has Hypermobility Spectrum Disorder (HSD), a condition which results in frequent joint dislocations, chronic pain, and brain fog. Her character, Cos, has the same disorder, so it is well described in the book. ‘Unfortunate’, ‘Defective’, ‘Degenerate’ were terms used to describe people with any form of incurable ‘disability’ in this era. She has incorporated physical, psychological and intellectual disabilities into her characters, to portray the wide spectrum of conditions, all the while emphasizing their unique qualities, skills and endurance.
Flavia Sorrentino has illustrated the book with the flair of the little magician, Miles, and captured the personalities and emotions of all the characters and their grim surroundings. The collective image of all the characters at the front of the book will help young readers to identify them. The newspaper page in the beginning also sets the scene and the one prior to the epilogue completes the story.
Middle grade readers will find the characters of this book courageous, in a wretched situation. Cosima Unfortunate Steals a Star, whilst drawing attention to the historic treatment of children with disabilities, also speaks to their strengths, unique abilities and how they identify themselves within their family and community.