Thursday, 11 August 2016

A few thoughts on The Silver Star by Jeannette Wells

This was one of the few (well, it was more like many) books I stole from my parent's bookshelf and it was the first I read from that selection. This was one my mum personally recommended as she was throwing books away, and I now trust her with book recommendations more after reading this.


'It is 1970 in a small town in California. “Bean” Holladay is twelve and her sister, Liz, is fifteen when their artistic mother, Charlotte, 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 widowed 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 stories about why their mother left Virginia in the first place. Money is tight, and the sisters start babysitting and doing office work for Jerry Maddox, foreman of the mill in town, who bullies his workers, his tenants, his children, and his wife. Liz is whip-smart--an inventor of word games, reader of Edgar Allan Poe, nonconformist, but when school starts in the fall, it’s Bean who easily adjusts, and Liz who becomes increasingly withdrawn. And then something happens to Liz in the car with Maddox. Jeannette Walls has written a deeply moving novel about triumph over adversity and about people who find a way to love each other and the world, despite its flaws and injustices.'

The plot of the book is fairly simple. Two young girls are practically left to raise themselves due to their mother's own inability to let go of her childhood dreams, as she constantly leaves them to go and explore how she can find fame. It was really interesting to see how that concept could make the girls so independent yet so vulnerable in society, it was a shock to see them go from being really strong to very weak, and it was fascinating to have that bit of insight into that sort of life. I really enjoyed the two protagonist in this book, Bean and Liz, the two sisters were really captivating and different obviously due to their upbringing, yet they were very real. Bean was a brilliant narrator as she's quite outgoing and daring, even though as a child she has a slight warped view of justice and social issues.

This book covers a range of sensitive issues from race to rape, and it's not a book that glosses over this either and pretends these problems can be solved easily by the protagonist - it faces the harsh reality of how these problems are often due to corruption in the social sector, and they can't be solved so easily. Due to this, I wouldn't recommend this book to young readers despite it's lack of graphic content, it's still not a YA novel. One of the protagonists faces the social injustices in rape culture  that was present in the time the book was set, and the scary thing is that I found that the problem in the novel it's still present in our time - even if it is not as prominent as it was then; and that scared me a lot and made me appreciate this books so much more, because I still found the message relatable. Another social issue was dressed in this book when the two girls arrived two schools in the district merged and there were quite a few racial clashes, but the end of the book it seems that society has learnt how to be tolerable of each other and how to try to understand/appreciate other people, a message that is still needed in many areas of the world today.

The symbolism of the Emus in this book was lovely, because it showed the two girls despite not fitting in and being a bit of an oddity, where beautiful and all they wanted was to be free. I think that's quite an important symbolism to have present in a novel too, that you can beautiful and wonderful without needing to be like everyone else - you don't need to conform. Naturally, with their upbringing Bean and her sisiter were never going to completely fit in and they introduce an idea that even though being different is hard, it is a thing no one should be ashamed of.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It was a quick and easy read with characters that I wanted to know more about as they grew older, and I was really pleased to find it dealt with a lot of social issues, even though they weren't fully resolved due to the character being young. I know a lot of people don't think much of this as they believe the protagonists were flat characters, and prefer Well's other books, however I've not read anything else by her and I enjoyed this more than I thought I would.

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