Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Book Review: The Silver Star By Jeannette Walls

Title: The Silver Star
Author: Jeannette Walls
Enjoyment Rating: ***
Source: Audible
This book would be rated: PG-13 for language, adult situations

Twelve-year-old Bean and her fifteen-year-old sister Liz come home from school one day in June 1970 to find their  house in rural California empty. Their mother, Charlotte, has taken off to "find herself," and has left the girls with enough money to buy themselves chicken pot pies for a long time. Charlotte has left the girls on their own pretty often in the past-- driving down to LA for a gig or an audition and staying away for a week at a time. But this time things are different, after several weeks, Charlotte hasn't returned, and people in town have started to notice.

So the girls, who have been taught to avoid talking to cops or people from social services at all costs, buy bus tickets bound for Virginia, where their Uncle Tinsley lives in a mansion. They haven't seen Tinsley in years, because Charlotte hates her home town and everything it stands for.

Tinsley, a reclusive widower, is surprised (not in a good way) to see the girls, but soon warms up to their presence. And Bean flourishes in the small town, making friends, finding extended family, and spreading her wings. The resourceful girls (against Tinsley's wishes) find jobs, and Liz, who had always seemed to strong to Bean, starts to struggle.

Readers of The Glass Castle will recognize similar themes from Walls's memoir in the novel. The girls are neglected by their mother, and it's unclear if she's truly mentally ill (and if Liz is headed the same direction) or just flighty, opinionated, lazy, and overwhelmed by the responsibility of caring for her daughters. The story, which overtly references To Kill a Mockingbird has the air of that novel as well. Bean becomes aware of issues of race and power, and the book includes a legal aspect as well. While the story was interesting and Bean was a compelling character, it didn't have the power or the depth of The Glass Castle. 

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