STAR Academy – The Novel

01 From This Moment

STAR Academy

STAR Academy

    WHAT THE CRITICS ARE SAYING ABOUT STAR ACADEMY:

Following are excerpts from some of the reviews that STAR Academy has received, plus links to complete articles.

“Edward Kay masterfully uses a range of comedic forms. Kay is worth watching to see where his imagination might take us in a sequel.” Joan Yollck, The Globe & Mail. Read the whole review here.

“STAR Academy is sure to become a favourite, as it brings together interesting characters, cool experiments, stellar inventions and a mystery that keeps the reader wanting more.” Trevor J. Froates, The Canadian Children’s Book Centre. Read the full review here.

“The very notion of a collection of young geniuses able to outstrip adults in their knowledge of quantum physics is cheering.” Deirdre Baker, Quill & Quire magazine.

“Edward Kay’s STAR Academy is great fun for geeks of all ages.” Hilary Williamson, Bookloons. Read the full review here.

“I always have had a love of science, and if you’ve felt that way before, I would recommend this book. It is highly entertaining, so do yourself a favour and read it.” Victoria, age 12, KIdsWWwrite e-zine. Read the full review here.

STAR Academy has also been chosen by Today’s Parent magazine on its “Book Shelf – Our Favourite Books This Month” recommended list.

Want to judge for yourself? For a “free sample”, follow this link to the Random House/Doubleday site, where you can read the first chapter online for free by clicking here.

    THE WORLD OF STAR ACADEMY:

The following page is a work in progress. But over the next few weeks, I will be providing you with insider information about the characters and places in STAR Academy. I’m trying to avoid putting any spoilers in here, in case you haven’t read the book yet. If that’s the case, I think you’ll find information here that will give you some entertaining background to the story. If you have already read STAR Academy, I think you’ll find this additional information both amusing and enlightening and it will tip you off to certain sly inside references that you can speak about cryptically to your friends! By the way, anywhere you see grey highlighted text like this, click on it, and the link will take you to a photo or video clip that will provide clues about certain characters and certain secret activities at the STAR Academy (yes, that particular text was sneaky – it took you right back to this page, didn’t it? But I promise you the other links will take you to places that will give you some interesting visuals and amusing insights).

Since the release of STAR Academy, it has been hugely gratifying to discover how many people are inspired by Amanda Forsythe. And since she is the protagonist of STAR Academy, it’s only fitting that I reveal her biography first. You’ll find it below, along with some stubs for Evelyn, Derek and Sanjay. As I said, it’s a work in progress, so check back once in a while and you’ll find updates on them and the other characters in the book, both the good and the not-so-nice.

Being a novel and not yet a motion picture or a stage musical (though negotiations are underway for the latter) STAR Academy does not of course have a soundtrack. But if it did, I think it would sound a little something like this.
I would love to embed it in this site, but I don’t know if it’s public domain, so in the interest of not infringing on anyone’s copyright, I have refrained from doing so. But you can cut and paste that address into a different browser, which will take you to a youtube page where I found the music. That way you can listen to the music while reading this page. If you just want a quick listen and you promise to come back as soon as you’re done, click here. That is composer Bernard Herrmann’s brilliant soundtrack for The Day the Earth Stood Still, which by incredible coincidence, was produced in 1951, a year that for some mysterious reason seems to have had a great deal of influence on the cultural sensibilities of Headmistress Oppenheimer, Professor Leitspied, and George, the master engineer of the Academy.

Meanwhile, here’s a link to a site where you can read the first chapter on line. To do so, CLICK HERE!

MAIN CHARACTERS:

AMANDA FORSYTHE. Age: 11. Hometown: Downview. Interests: space exploration, particularly theories of photon-sail interstellar space travel. Pet peeves: people with no imagination.

Amanda was a somewhat precocious baby, and surprised her parents by first walking when she was 9 months old. However, her early locomotive abilities were viewed primarily as an inconvenience by her parents. They didn’t actually note her intelligence until Amanda had reached the age of one and a half, by which time she was constructing complex structures out of building blocks. Invariably, these structures were considerably taller than Amanda herself, who would stand on chairs and construct scaffolds to enable herself to make her building block towers taller and taller, until they were the height of an adult human. Her parents were baffled by both her ingenuity and her intent. “It’s as if she’s trying to go up high, or something,” her mother would comment to Amanda’s father. “But to where? And why?” asked Jack Forsythe.

It is possible that this desire to go up toward the heavens was an early expression of Amanda’s interest in exploring space. Or perhaps it was simply the reflection of an unconscious desire to rise above her environs. (See below).

Markham-suburbs_aerial-edit

In any case, it certainly was an activity regarded as impractical by Amanda’s father. “When they start paying babies to build towers out of building blocks so she can help pay down this mortgage, now that’ll be something to cheer about.”

Amanda became interested in astronomy from an early age, and was a keen observer of the heavens, even without any special equipment. For example, her mother still remembers the day she discovered the source of mysterious marks that kept turning up every day on the kitchen calendar. Wendy Forsythe was stunned to learn that with just the observational powers of her naked eye, her three-year-old daughter had recorded the phases of the moon with a tick-mark code, and determined that it has a cycle of 29.53 days –“approximately” as Amanda said to her mother at the time. When pressed on the point, Amanda explained that she lacked the equipment to properly measure the phases, so there were likely some digits missing from her calculation, meaning that it was 29.53 days “give or take a few thousandths of an Earth day” – which, she explained, would mean that her figure was only accurate to within several minutes a month. But she was working on it. Wendy Forsythe didn’t know what to think. Hearing the tale, Jack Forsythe was again concerned that this could be early evidence of a flighty mind that was drawn to irrelevant pursuits, while ignoring the important practical issues of life, such as closing important bunion remover cream contracts.

It was not just Amanda’s parents who didn’t know what to make of her. In the small, parochial town of Downview, undertakings such as Amanda’s were regarded not as signs of genius, but rather indications that “that Forsythe kid is a weirdo.” From the time she entered Kindergarten at Downview Public School, up to and including Grade Six, Amanda’s highly advanced scientific theories baffled her teachers, who assumed that they were the product of an overactive imagination and too many science fiction movies.

Although Amanda is highly intelligent and an expert in a number of scientific areas, she also possesses something equally rare, which is what one might call “people smarts.” Amanda became as keen an observer of people and their behaviour as she was of lunar cycles, and, seeing how people reacted to her ideas, learned to hide her brilliance from them lest they think her strange. However, when she reached a point in school where science became an actual part of the curriculum – which at Downview Public School is grade six – Amanda’s brilliance put her on a collision course with lesser intellectual lights such as her teacher, Mrs. Wheedlbum, and Principal Murkly. And this is right where we find her at the beginning of STAR Academy.

Is there something you’d like to tell Amanda or know about her? Or an observation you’d like to make? Then feel free to send her a message by CLICKING HERE. Your message will be forwarded to Amanda, and her answer posted on the site.

DEREK MURPHY. Age: 11. Hometown: Newent, Gloucestershire, U.K. Interests: optics, particularly for space-based devices. Pet peeves: people with no sense of humour. Many people view scientists, and kids interested in science, as being geeks. But with his unruly mop of dark hair, black jeans, sweaters, and high-top sneakers, Derek definitely doesn’t fit the stereotype. A graduate of Newent’s Picklenash Junior School, he enjoys socializing and conversation, and has a sharp sense of humour. With his trademark lopsided grin, he delivers friendly insults to his mates (whom he calls “Anoraks”, a British term roughly translating as “nerds”) and witty verbal uppercuts to people with whom he is not on such a friendly basis. He stays fit with gymnastics, which he likes to refer to as “applied physics”. Besides science, Derek’s interests include alternative music, especially bands from his native Britain that nobody has heard about yet outside the U.K. and Ireland. Small as his hometown is, it is famous not just for its “Onion Fayre” every September, but also for the unspoiled countryside that surrounds it. Although Derek stays on top of the latest music online, he also enjoys hiking in the nearby Forest of Dean amongst the ancient oak trees. It’s a magical place, far enough away from the light pollution of London and Birmingham that from an early age, Derek was thus able to indulge his passion for stargazing, a keen interest he shares with Amanda.

Though a very small community, Newent has produced another famous citizen, Joe Meek, a composer and record producer who created the hit rock instrumental, Telstar, for a band known as The Tornadoes.
Tornados-telstar-german-sleeve
Joe Meek’s song was inspired by the launch of the AT&T communications satellite of the same name. It’s quite an amazing coincidence that two famous residents of such a small town were both fascinated by satellites. Unfortunately, they never got a chance to meet, as Joe lived long before Derek was born. You can hear the original – complete with spacey sounds – by clicking here. However, you might enjoy a cover version that Derek discovered by a Japanese surf band called Chicchi & Sweet Papa. To hear it, click here. Derek was amazed to see that Chicchi appears to be even younger than Amanda and her friends. But as he says, boy can she play guitar!

EVELYN CHIU. Age: 11. Hometown: San Francisco, USA. Interests: Oceanography and ocean engineering. Pet peeves: people who use the ocean as a combination bottomless protein supply and garbage dump. Evelyn comes by her interest in the ocean naturally. Her parents are from Hong Kong and have always regaled her with stories of its seafaring history. And the family restaurant where Evelyn spent much of her time in when growing up has a beautiful view of San Franciso Bay.

San_Francisco_Bay

On top of that, her family’s restaurant has saltwater tanks in which to keep the live lobsters and fish. Evelyn always loved gazing into that world. A casual observer might have thought she was zoning out. But in reality, even as a young child, Evelyn was using the fish tank like a window into a fantastic yet possible world, one with underwater cities, sustainable energy created from the ocean currents, and teeming with aquatic life. Evelyn also was fascinated by a photo she saw of an experiment in the 1960s by American biochemist Dr. Leland Clark, who successfully developed a fluorocarbon-based liquid that could be breathed successfully by mice in place of air.

Leland Clark's mouse

Utterly fascinated by that photo, Evelyn used the resources of the Academy to duplicate that experiment, and even took it a step further, making a sustainable liquid environment for her pet mouse, which she named Lelie in honour of Dr. Clark. Incidentally, Lelie has a much bigger tank to roam around in than the lab container pictured above. Evelyn loves Lelie dearly and would never put her in a confined area without lots of playthings to keep her mentally stimulated.

SANJAY DOSANJH. Age: 11. Hometown: Delhi, India. Interests: nanobots, particularly those with medical applications. Pet peeves: People who always think that bigger is better. From the time he was a toddler, Sanjay loved hanging out at his father’s TV and electronics repair shop, which is located in a busy bazaar in an older neighbourhood of Delhi.

Delhi_main_bazaar
It is a modest little establishment, but for Sanjay, it was full of magic and marvels. You see, in India, people don’t usually just throw things away when they break. Instead, they do something quite novel by contemporary Western standards: they fix them. And they often do this by salvaging the useable parts from inside other broken electronics. Sanjay’s parents didn’t have enough money to buy him toys, but he never felt the least bit deprived. That’s because between the workbench, tools, and a backroom full of disused equipment of every description in his dad’s shop, Sanjay had all the toys he could possibly ever need. While still a toddler, he learned about electronics by watching his father skillfully repair customers’ equipment and by taking old radios and stereos apart and putting them back together again. It wasn’t long until Sanjay was just as skilled as his father. Soon, he was even more skilled than his father, and amused himself by using bits of old broken electronics and appliances to build primitive robots that could do things like make toast, butter it, then bring it to you. Not bad for a 4-year-old.

SECONDARY CHARACTERS:

GEORGE. Age: Early 30s. Hometown: Believed to be somewhere in Fiji. A kindly if quirky engineer, George is the mastermind behind many of the STAR Academy’s most notable features. Some of his creations include its fully automated cafeteria and the cruelty-free in-vitro meat served there, as well as the hologram animals in Amanda’s home room. Because the Academy’s two-hundred students are drawn from around the world, George makes sure that the cafeteria serves a highly multicultural menu. Besides, he feels strongly that if people were to get to know each other’s cultures better – through food, for example – we’d all have a greater appreciation for each other. George is aware that not everyone is used to eating in a cafeteria, so he loves to show the students this instructional film he found, entitled, Lunchroom Manners. He hopes you’ll watch it so that you’ll have good lunchroom manners too.

When he’s not busy with such affairs, George is in charge of the Academy’s a observatory and all the astronomical equipment it contains. He is also available for all students as an engineering consultant on their projects, a role that is one of his greatest pleasures, as he loves helping kids bring their dreams to fruition. George is on the slim side, with a rather narrow face, but large, pleasant eyes and a genial smile. He is a mentor to Amanda, and is her closest adult friend at the Academy, just as she is his closest friend amongst the children. LIke the other staff at the STAR Academy, George has a rather retro approach to fashion. He favours a style of haircut popular in the late 1940s and early 1950s – short on the sides, long on the top. George also drives and maintains the Academy’s ground transportation: a 1950 Studebaker Starlight. It is a a futuristic vehicle that was at one time built in Hamilton, Ontario, in Canada, as well as other places. George, scientist that he is, did careful research before selecting the Studebaker, and noted that according to Studebaker experts, it has “just about the smoothest, sweetest ride you’ve ever found in any car.” George lovingly maintains the Starlight in such immaculate shape that it looks like it could have just rolled off the assembly line last month, instead of more than half a century ago. This is what George’s Studebaker Starlight looks like:

Studebaker Starlight

George's Studebaker Starlight

Amanda has noticed that’s not the only thing from the mid-20th century that George likes. He has a fascination with television programs from the late 1940s and early 1950s, and in fact seems to be much more familiar with them than he is with modern shows. He has mentioned that he would love to have been a contestant on a game show entitled, “You Bet Your Life”.

HEADMISTRESS OPPENHEIMER. Age: Don’t you know it’s not polite to ask a Headmistress her age? Hometown: Unknown. She has a pleasant manner, bringing to mind a favourite aunt. Behind this stimulating personality is a woman of strong drive who takes the job of headmistress very seriously. She is intent on getting the most out of her 200 young charges at the Academy. Of course, being the responsible sort of Headmistress that she, Oppenheimer is concerned about her students health habits and grooming. Here’s a film that Headmistress Oppenheimer loves. She likes all of her students to watch it, thinks that you should too… right here:

With her highly focussed intellect, she is sometimes bemused by her colleagues, George and especially Professor Leitspied, whom she sees as a tad flighty if staggeringly intelligent. Headmistress Oppenheimer is particularly fond of Amanda and admires her brilliance. Though she is very careful to treat all the students equally, there is no doubt that she has a special place in her heart for Amanda. Like the other faculty, Headmistress Oppenheimer has a rather unusual fashion sense, though she’s not a “clothes horse” like Professor Leitspied. Headmistress Oppenheimer favours a lab coat adapted as a dress, embellished with a bit of gold braid piping around the edges, and epaulettes atop the padded shoulders. Given her height, her rather large eyes, and thin, bird-like features, this uniform gives her an imposing air. That however, is balanced by a natural warmth and a certain winning way with young people, making Amanda and the others students feel very appreciated and eager to do their best. With such a motivating headmistress, there’s no telling where the kids’ experiments and projects could lead, and how they might leave their mark on the world. Anything seems possible at the STAR Academy!

PROFESSOR LEITSPIED. Age: Late 40s. Make that late 1940s. Professor Leitspied is a gifted physicist and a devoted teacher. But with her penciled in eyebrows and padded-shouldered, wasp-waisted dresses, she looks a little bit like Joan Crawford. She also occasionally dresses like Dale Evans…

DaleEvans2

…though none of the children quite understand why. She is an expert with a yo-yo, hula-hoop, and any other device that simulates the principals of gravity, orbits, centrifugal force, etc. – as long as it was popular at least 50 years ago. It’s strange, really. Amanda and the other children often wonder why someone with Leitspied’s intellect doesn’t prefer something more modern, like a Rubik’s cube. But for her, it’s as if they don’t even exist. But to each his own. There must be a perfectly good reason for Leitspied’s preference for more vintage diversions. And a student could never hope for a more dedicated professor. Leitspied seems determined to spur her students on to create things the likes of which the world has never seen before, technologies so advanced they are sure to stun people outside the Academy.

EUGENIA SNOOTMAN. Age: 11. Hometown: Aspen, the Hampdens, Loire Valley, Paris, Rome and the Cayman Islands. Hobbies: Attending fashion shows, birthday parties for the offspring of robber barons, buying and manipulating friends, DNA splicing, and after being recruited to the STAR Academy, trying to torment Amanda Forsythe. Eugenia is the daughter of Bill Snootman, the world’s richest man, and Charleze Snootman, a former Miss Universe. Eugenia is used to being the centre of attention and getting what she wants. Being Bill Snootman’s daughter, she is possessed of considerable intellect (if not quite at the level of Amanda, Evelyn, Derek and Sanjay). But her privileged upbringing has given Eugenia a strong sense of entitlement, so she is most comfortable being a “Queen Bee” and the centre of attention. To say that Eugenia is a control freak is as much an understatement as saying that leeches enjoy a a spot of blood now and again. It’s not enough for her to socially manipulate everyone who comes into her orbit. She loves to manipulate the very building blocks of life itself- DNA – creating such monstrosities as her pet, Tinkerbell, a vicious cross between a cayman and a ferret. Speaking of pets, Eugenia is a social climber with an overarching need to win in every way, so obsessed with being first that there’s no telling what lengths she will go to in order to become the “teachers’ pet” (actually, there is telling, but you’ll have to read to quite close to the end of STAR Academy to find out!) Amanda had better be careful, because Eugenia especially dislikes people who succeed on merit alone.

JACK FORSYTHE. Age: 40. Amanda’s father. He is the eastern regional sales manager for the Achilles Bunion remover cream company, a position he has worked his way up to after beginning as a lowly in-store bunion cream demonstrator two decades ago. His rise through the company is an achievement of which he is very proud. He hopes some day to be the subject of an autobiography, but in the meantime, tells his career story to everyone who wants to listen – as well as to those who don’t, which is a terrible embarrassment to Amanda. Jack Forsythe loves his children, but he doesn’t really “get” Amanda. Her fascination with science, particularly space since there doesn’t seem to be any way to make money out of it.

WENDY FORSYTHE. Age: 36. Amanda’s mother. She is a loving parent, but terribly insecure about her own abilities. Because of this, has a hard time imagining that anyone she gave birth to could achieve anything of note. Therefore she doesn’t want Amanda exposed to situations where she could fail or get her feelings hurt. Amanda’s interest in science is absolutely baffling to Wendy Forsythe.

DANIEL FORSYTHE. Age: 9. Amanda’s younger brother, and only other sibling. As kid brothers are sometimes wont to be, Daniel is at times quite annoying. He’s more attracted to sports and Jackie Chan movies than science; the only aspects of his sister’s field of study that interest him are those that have the potential to make something blow up. However, she is maddeningly secretive about such things (from his point of view), refusing to tell him what chemicals to mix together to make explosions. He used to sneak into Amanda’s bedroom laboratory when she wasn’t around and fiddle with her equipment and experiments, until Amanda devised some harmless but embarrassing booby traps that have cured him of this habit.