I often find in the pursuit of creating a touching, artistic story novels turn the world into a dark and unfair place, which it can be if we’re being honest, but sometimes what readers need is a good storybook ending. It’s okay to say you like a book that has a predictable ending where everything turns out alright for everybody.
For me, The Silver Star by Jeanette Walls was a breath of fresh air after a string of books which focus on how rough life is. As my first escapade with Walls I wasn’t sure what to expect. Her award-winning memoir The Glass Castle has been on my school reading lists as long as I can remember. It was one that I never had the opportunity to study but the reviews from my then fifteen-year-old peers were not overwhelmingly warm.
Still, I was compelled to read The Silver Star after it was selected by the Adult Book Club I recently joined. As stated before I am not normally a fan of Young Adult fiction, partly because I found them often not challenging enough, but I devoured Walls’ Silver Star in roughly 28 hours. I began on the train ride into work, picked it up again on the ride back home, stayed up way too late before bed, and then polished the book off the following morning by getting to work extra early and sneaking in some reading time at my desk. I liked it.
The Silver Star follows two teenage girls, Bean and Liz, who have no choice but to move to the small town in Virginia where their mother grew up after she essentially walks out on them. There they meet their estranged Uncle Tinsley and begin to learn about their family history, why their mother hates her hometown, and why she has never returned.
The protagonist is Bean, the younger of the two, and it was refreshing to read from a younger perspective. Bean is an optimistic character who has a deep love for her family and an appreciation for life. It was easy for me to identify with the characters as two roughly lower to middle-class girls who are navigating high school, which made moving through the book easier. As a Bildungsroman, you cheer on the girls as they have to deal with moving from a more liberal environment in California to the early post-segregation of the south in the late 60’s to early 70’s on top of their own family drama. Walls’ tale reminds you of what it feels like to encounter injustice for the first time as a child and realize that adults don’t necessarily always do the right thing even though you were raised to believe it. I was immediately caught up in the various curve balls which are thrown Bean’s way, and how she not only has to overcome them but also figure out who she is.
Touching on diverse issues such as mental health, racism, misogyny, and abuse, The Silver Star is an excellently crafted story with both action and intelligence. I would highly recommend it for preteens and teens, or adults who can appreciate the perspective of youth (and probably need to be reminded how smart teens can be).