Thursday, May 30, 2013

339 (2013 #23). The Silver Star

I thoroughly enjoyed the other two books by Jeannette Walls that I've read - The Glass Castle, her memoir about growing up in a dysfunctional family, and especially Half Broke Horses, her "real-life" novel about her grandmother's life in West Texas and Arizona in the early 1900s.  So, when I had the opportunity to get an advance reader edition of her latest book (to be released June11), I jumped at the chance.

This book is definitely fiction, but I see a lot of The Glass Castle in it.  The main character is called Bean, but her real name is Jean.  Bean has an older sister named Liz (Jeannette Walls has an older sister named Lori).  Their mother, a single parent in this book, leaves them alone frequently for long periods of time while she pursues her own selfish,  unrealistic dreams - much as Jeannette's real mother did.  Much of the story takes place in a small Virginia town.  Jeannette's father grew up in a small West Virginia town, and much of The Glass Castle takes place there.  Walls is definitely writing what she knows.

In the story, when their mother leaves them alone for too long, twelve-year-old Bean and fifteen-year-old Liz, who are half-sisters, head from California to the small Virginia mill town where their mother grew up and their widower uncle, a hoarder (like Jeannette's mother), still lives in the old family mansion.  It's 1970, and the town suffers through some pains of integration of the schools, yet I would hesitate to call this book historical fiction, as that is just a small part of the story.

As much as I wanted to like this book, I don't think its as good as Half Broke Horses or even The Glass Castle (both of which I rated 5 out of 5 stars).  Bean was a spiky, well-developed character, but the others were flat or stereotypical.  Some of the events in the story stretched plausibility.  That works in a memoir and might work in books meant to be humorous (like Jack Gantos' Dead End in Norvelt), but it did not work so well in a story with a serious plot event.  I won't spoil it, because this is a fast, easy read, but I felt a bit let down.  It was as if the book was The Glass Castle Light.  Maybe my expectations were too high since Walls' other books that I've read were SO good.  Since the narrator is a precocious twelve-year-old, perhaps the book will find a more receptive audience in young adults.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[This advance reader edition was given to me by the publisher at the 2013 Texas Library Association conference.  It will be passed on to someone else to enjoy.]

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