Jeannette Walls wrote two fabulous memoirs – The Glass Castle and Half Broke Horses. I devoured them both in a couple of days. Half Broke Horses is the tale of her incredible grandmother, and The Glass Castle is the tale of Walls’ own life, growing up with her “eccentric” mother and alcoholic father. Both books were extremely well-written and fantastic reads, despite the sad and unnerving stories of the emotional abuse. So I was quite excited to be reading an advanced copy of her new book, a fictional tale of two young sisters.
Ultimately I was disappointed. While you can certainly see the influence of her own life in The Silver Star, the book just doesn’t flow as naturally as do her memoirs. It’s quite jerky in places, with stilted dialogue and flat characters. While we get to know young 12 year old Bean very well, the other main characters don’t seem to be developed as much. We don’t get a real explanation of why their Uncle Tinsley goes from being a supposedly normal person, to an eccentric recluse who lives in a house that would take pride of place in an episode of Hoarders.
Bean herself is a wonderful character. Think shades of Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird. Although I suppose any fictional young female character who is quite feisty and quick-witted will suffer from that comparison. Her older sister Liz, seems to live in a world of her own most of the time – which gets worse after her incident that propels the second part of the book. After so long of being looked after by Liz, Bean needs to step up and be the caregiver, something that she does well. She’s a strong, funny, loveable character and it’s her voice that drives the story.
I do love coming of age stories. Particularly when the protagonist is a young female, living in the times of the 40s – 70s. I don’t know why I’m attracted to those time periods, I just am. Set in the 1970′s in a small American town that is going through integration for the first time, Bean is trying to make her way and find a home for herself and her sister. In a town full of stereotypes – the evil mill foreman, his downtrodden wife, Bean’s new-found family of caring and loving country folks – Bean and Liz deal with their family name, their neglectful mother’s emotional abuse and a horrific tragedy that befells Liz.
The silver star mentioned in the title seems to be the medal Bean’s true father received during the Korean War, yet the medal itself is only mentioned a few times and doesn’t really have a big impact on the story. It’s a curious choice for a title. The Silver Star just doesn’t live up to Walls’ previous writings. Flat in so many areas, two dimensional characters – save for Bean herself – it just doesn’t pack the punch that Half Broke Horses and The Glass Castle do.
This review is also available at my book review blog Tangled Bookmarks: