The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls

The Silver Star(Description nicked from B&N.com.)

“It is 1970 in a small town in California. ‘Bean’ Holladay is twelve and her sister, Liz, is fifteen when their artistic mother, Charlotte, a woman who ‘found something wrong with every place she ever lived,’ takes off to find herself, leaving her girls enough money to last a month or two. When Bean returns from school one day and sees a police car outside the house, she and Liz decide to take the bus to Virginia, where their Uncle Tinsley lives in the decaying mansion that’s been in Charlotte’s family for generations.

An impetuous optimist, Bean soon discovers who her father was, and hears many stories about why their mother left Virginia in the first place. Because money is tight, Liz and Bean start babysitting and doing office work for Jerry Maddox, foreman of the mill in town—a big man who bullies his workers, his tenants, his children, and his wife. Bean adores her whip-smart older sister—inventor of word games, reader of Edgar Allan Poe, nonconformist. But when school starts in the fall, it’s Bean who easily adjusts and makes friends, and Liz who becomes increasingly withdrawn. And then something happens to Liz.”

I kind of read this book on a whim.  It was the Simon Pulse freebie of the week, so I logged on and gave it a try.  And it certainly started out well enough.  The characters of Bean and Liz were ones that I could identify with, in the sense that they felt like misfits in an unfamiliar town.  Uncle Tinsley is gently wacky and slowly comes to care about his nieces, even if he’s a bit backward in his way of living.  Charlotte is a little over the top, but not too badly so.  When Bean’s father’s family enters the novel, I really liked them, as they had a warmth that the story really needed.

The part of the novel that I liked the most was how Bean finds out about her father.  Lacking information about him when she moves in with her uncle, she slowly pieces together his story and also gets a sense of how he fit in with her mother’s family and with the town itself.  There’s a connection with the past that I think would be an interesting subject for a teen novel to explore.  With so many families living far away from where their families came from, the concept of finding out your family history is one that I think should be kept alive.

Unfortunately, once the subplot about Jerry Maddox starts, the story takes a nosedive.  Maddox is a one-dimensional character, so much so that you can see where his part in the novel will go almost from the moment he appears on the page.  Maddox is so badly written that he’s a caricature of a villain.  I’m surprised he doesn’t have a mustache that he can twirl.  From that point on, the book descends into the worst kind of predictability.It gets so bad that when Bean’s cousin gets a dog and calls him simply “Dog”, the thought entered my head that he should have been named “Plot Point”, because I could see what his role would be from a mile away.

The book could have turned things around somewhat near the end and pulled out a vestige of good feeling, but that got messed up too.  Liz becomes obsessed with a pair of emus on a local farm and the ending revolves around them.  I had to wonder if the author decided to end the book where she did because she was bored with writing it at that point.  The ending not only didn’t fit with the majority of the plot, it didn’t really make much sense as a point of closure for the story.

As I read through this book, I saw glimmerings of a poignant, touching story about the power of family and the stories that define us.  What I didn’t see was the deft touch that would be needed to make such a story work.  The Silver Star hammers its readers with thinly veiled tropes and as a result, the book doesn’t work very well.

Series: n/a
ISBN: 9781451661507
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Page Count: 288
Publication Date: June 11, 2013
Acquired: Provided by the publisher

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