Set in the 1970s, The Silver Star is about two sisters whose mother’s nomadic lifestyle forces them to seek help from their Uncle in a small town called Byler in West Virginia. Somehow the book manages to deal with powerful themes and content while also retaining a quietness to it which might be down to Jeanette Walls’ writing style.
The events of the book are seen through Jean “Bean” Holladay, a twelve year old girl surrounded by adults who are unreliable and who abuse their power. Jeanette Walls has created an incredibly believable viewpoint. Reading this was like seeing through twelve year old eyes again; there is a sense of childlike innocence while also discovering that the world isn’t always good.
“We were living in a place where the guilty were innocent and the innocent were guilty. I didn’t know what to do. How were you supposed to behave in a world like that?”
It’s about discovering the injustice of the world for the first time and the ways in which different people deal with that.
The first half of the book details the girls’ journey to Byler and shows the relationship between the two sisters and their mother which they call “the tribe of three.” From the beginning it’s clear that they’re close but that they have problems – Charlotte Holladay often leaves her two girls, Liz and Bean alone while she chases her dreams of becoming a famous singer, often entertaining unrealistic ideas. Liz and Bean are incredibly close as a result of having to take care of each other from a young age. It made me extremely happy to see such a loving sisterly relationship in which it’s clear that they would both do anything to make the other happy and safe.
Around the halfway mark is when the tension starts to really build. After this point everything becomes very unsettling and disturbing. The sense of foreboding is almost painful. I had to keep taking pauses because I was so anxious for the characters during the events leading up to the climax. One of the most disturbing things about this book was how, even though it is set forty years ago, the many issues raised are still sadly just as relevant today.
In a town where the adults are either too scared to speak up, scared of change, or abusive of their powers, it takes Bean to stand up against the injustices done to her and her sister. She isn’t going to back down without a fight and she definitely isn’t going to turn a blind eye because “what would be crazy would be to pretend nothing happened.” She sets off a sort of chain of events throughout the community with her actions and by the end of the book there’s a sense that things are starting to change for the better. It’s the same idea as the boy who spoke the truth in the classic tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes.
It’s full of heart wrenching moments counterbalanced with the uplifting and sprinkled with beautiful language (specifically from Bean’s sister, Liz, who has a fixation with words). This story will be one of those that stays with me, always in the back of my mind for months, maybe years to come.
One of the many things I’m taking away from this book:
“Don’t apologize for who you are [...] and don’t ever be afraid to tell the truth.”
Jeanette Walls’ memoir The Glass Castle was a best seller and it’s something I’m definitely going to check out. But if reading The Silver Star hadn’t been enough persuasion to read more of Jeanette Walls’ books, The Glass Castle is going to be a film starring Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games film adaptations).
I read this book on pulseit which I recommend to anyone who loves teen/young adult books. It (legally) provides a new book to read after every week or so and also provides excerpts of other books, interviews from the authors and a nice community where you can review the books. There are also giveaways if you live in the US and Canada. (I’m sad because I can’t participate in those!)