Monday, August 5, 2013
The Silver Star: A Novel by Jeannette Walls
The Silver Star, Jeannette Walls has written a heartbreaking and redemptive novel about an intrepid girl who challenges the injustice of the adult world—a triumph of imagination and storytelling.
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 But when school starts in the fall, it’s Bean who easily adjusts and makes friends, and Liz who becomes increasingly withdrawn.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.
Jeannette Walls, supremely alert to abuse of adult power, 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.
Sisters. That is the true essence of Walls' novel, The Silver Star. Bean and Liz Holladay are a team. They take care of each other and rely on one another - they don't know any other way. You see, their mom is never around. She's always off searching for her big break in music; or she's hanging out with her imaginary boyfriend; or she's having a meltdown and gone on a retreat in the Catskills. Basically, she's not a mom to Bean or Liz. So, when she takes off after a fight with Bean and doesn't come back right away, the girls resort to their usual business of school and eating chicken pot pies. Unfortunately, the local grocer gets wind of the two girls being home alone and calls the cops. Not wanting to be taken in by the bandersnatchers, the two girls get bus tickets and head off to Virginia to stay with their Uncle Tinsley and Aunt Martha.
Life in Virginia turns out not to be so bad for Liz and Bean. They enjoy staying with their Uncle, making friends with the Wyatts (Bean's father's family), starting school, and getting odd jobs to make some school shopping money. Their mom gets in touch with them finally and high tails it to Virginia, but winds up having a huge meltdown and the girls are left in Uncle Tinsley's care. However, something awful happens to Liz and things get completely turned upside down for the Holladay family. I won't say what happens, but suffice it to say that things get pretty rough for the girls, especially Liz. And as a result, Bean and Liz are forced to grow up and handle situations that little girls shouldn't have to deal with.
The Silver Star is an easy read that I quickly devoured. The writing was solid and kept me engaged all the way through. I found Bean to be my favorite character, although I preferred Liz's free spirit (the not conforming to her high school's norm). I have to admit that the story wasn't all that original and Walls didn't really add a special twist to make it stand out, but I still enjoyed it. I think what I liked was the special bond between Liz and Bean - they were sisters and that meant something to them. They stood by one another through thick and thin, and I loved reading about that. I'm not sure I'd pick up another book by Walls, but I'm glad I gave her work a try.
Thank you to the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book via NetGalley.