Monday, September 30, 2013

The Silver Star

The Silver Star is the new novel from Jeannette Walls, the acclaimed author of the memoir The Glass Castle.

It’s 1970, and 12-year old Jean “Bean” Holliday and her 15-year old sister Liz are on their own since their mom, Charlotte, an aspiring singer, songwriter and actress with grand dreams of making it big has once again left them alone to pursue her career, this time traveling to Los Angeles for an audition as a backup singer. Bean and Liz are used to her frequent one to two night absences, but this time Charlotte’s been gone for four days and since the phone company turned off service, she has no way of getting through to the girls. Nonetheless, the girls are making do with a daily diet of Bean’s favorite meal, chicken pot pies, when they receive a letter from Charlotte with $200 to keep them in pies until her return.

When Mr. Spinelli, the local grocer, starts asking questions, the girls start to panic sure that the “bandersnatches” (Liz’s word from her favorite book) or “the do-gooding government busybodies who snooped around making sure that kids had the sort of families that busybodies thought they should have” would come split them and up and ship them off to parts unknown; and when Bean spots a police officer snooping through their front window, they quickly take action and decide to follow Liz’s plan. Despite the distance and scarcity of funds, the girls decide to travel to Mayfield, Charlotte’s family home located in Byler, VA and visit their Uncle Tinsley and Aunt Martha. With grand dreams of their own for family and a stable home, since Charlotte has found something wrong with every place they’d ever lived, they packed their clothes and Fido, Bean’s pet turtle, and embark on a cross-country journey that unbeknownst to them will bring them fun, excitement and self-discovery.

This was a lovely and charming book. As the narrator, Bean is funny, precocious and full of sass; while Liz, wise beyond her years, is the pseudo-parent for their little family, keeping Bean not only physically, but emotionally safe from their mom’s lack of care. In every sense, Liz is Bean’s constant and safe harbor in the storm; from saving her life as an infant, to sharing her bed with Bean so she wouldn’t cry, to protecting Bean from the sad realization that Charlotte is a fibber, like her grandiose tales of foxhunting with Jackie Kennedy when she was a child. Charlotte is a woman with illusions of grandeur carried from the days when her daddy owned the town’s cotton mill; who is too busy dwelling on the exploits of her past, like being homecoming queen, and grand dreams of fame in her future to do something as mundane as being a parent to her two wonderful girls.

I loved Bean and Liz’s courage in the face of so much diversity and the fact that they never let themselves become victims to their circumstances or the adults around them; instead they are emboldened by the knowledge that together they can do and face anything. I was so glad that despite his own fears and struggles, Uncle Tinsley stepped up and became someone the girls could love and trust; in truth, not only Uncle Tinsley but the whole Wyatt clan (Aunt Al, Ruth, and Joe) epitomized the best in what it means to be a family. Ultimately, Bean and Liz find what they most needed, family, that safety net which catches us all during times of trial.

The Silver Star is a wonderful book guaranteed to deliver more than a few laughs, as well as a new appreciation for family and the redemptive power of love.