Oh, I have to say right up front that I loved Jeanette Walls's latest book The Silver Star. Walls is a consummate raconteur, as evidenced by her best selling memoirs The Glass Castle and Half Broke Horses.
Although The Silver Star is fiction, I could see pieces that may have been gleaned from Walls' past as well.
1970. California. Twelve year old Bean Holladay and her fifteen year old sister Liz are used to their mother Charlotte leaving them on them on their own for a few days. She always stocks up on chicken pot pies - enough to last them 'til she returns. But this time is different - she leaves them with money to last a month - or two if they're careful. When the money runs out and she still hasn't returned, the girls decide to make their way to their mother's hometown - to a place they don't know and to relatives they've never met.
I fell in love with Bean right from the get go. Her curiosity, her forthrightness, her loyalty to those she loves, her devotion to her sister Liz and her resilience all endeared her to me. To Kill a Mockingbird is referenced in the book and Scout was brought to mind when I thought of Bean. Liz is just as well drawn, but on a quieter scale. She's the one who ensures they go to school, that they have meals together, that protects Bean from realizing their plight is more desperate than she lets on.
I had been racing through the book, I was so caught up in the girls' story. But, their arrival in Virginia had me putting the book down and stepping away. I just knew 'something' was going to happen and I wasn't sure if I wanted to know what that was yet, although I had a pretty good idea.
I waited a few days and picked up the book again, when I knew I had time to read right through to the end. (Although I must admit - I had to sneak a peek a few chapters ahead, then go back) And yes, something does happen and it shapes and redefines Liz and Bean's lives as well as those of their new found family. Childhood is left behind in this coming of age story. But much is gained as well....
There isn't a problem distinguishing who is 'bad' and who is 'good' in this book. The extended family that Liz and Bean find are wonderfully warm and eccentric. While I was thinking good and bad, I sat and thought about Charlotte. I'm not sure she can be defined as one or the other. My opinion on her sits firmly in the middle. I'm curious as to what others thought about her.
Walls touches on many familiar issues and themes in The Silver Star - mental illness, dysfunctional relationships, racial integration, bullying, poverty and so much more. And has woven them into yet another riveting read.
Read an excerpt of The Silver Star. A reading group guide is also available for book clubs.