The Silver Star (NetGalley)
release date: June 2013
Readers of Jeanette Walls’ memoir The Glass Castle will immediately recognize the family dynamics in her new novel The Silver Star. Sisters Liz, a high school freshman, and Bean, age twelve, pretty much raise themselves. Mom, a beautiful singer-songwriter-actress, is sometimes away more than she is home–but the girls are fine, as long as they have chicken pot pies stockpiled. Money is always on their minds because Mom has never actually acted in anything, and singing gigs were few and far between. The little family lives on their grandmother’s inheritance and a few odd jobs. Whenever Mom got bored and decided, “We’ve hit a dead end,” they moved on–to Pasadena, Taos, San Jose, Seattle, Tuscon, Lost Lake.
But when Mom realizes the girls know that her latest long distance boyfriend is fiction, she up and vanishes. After weeks of getting themselves up and out of the house to school, Liz finally decides they should set out for the only relative they know of, Uncle Tinsley in Virginia, lest the authorities find out the girls are on their own. The trip takes several days by Greyhound, but Liz and Bean arrive in Byler, Virgina, a place they hadn’t seen for nearly ten years. Uncle Tinsley, a widower, isn’t too keen on their arrival, sending them first to the barn to sleep; Tinsley is more concerned with “cataloguing” the historical documents and artifacts that cover every inch of flat space in the once-gracious Mayfield. But family is family and Tinsley finds himself warming to his preoocious and spunky nieces.
Soon Bean learns the story of her father’s death and is folded into his family by her Aunt Al. She scavenges fruits and vegetables with her cousin Joe. Aunt Al passes on to Bean the silver star medal that her father was awarded for his service in Korea.They eat venison stew with Uncle Tinsley every night for dinner. Liz is enchanted by a neighboring farm’s emus and Mayfield’s library and all seems headed for a happily ever after. But as idyllic as life in Byler is, the town also has its resident villain, Jerry Maddox. Foreman at the mill, Maddox hires Liz and Bean when they are looking for odd jobs–he works them hard, he works them long, and he finally abuses his power in an unthinkable way.
Liz crumbles in on herself, and the girls are now outcasts in Byler because of Maddox’s pull. And then Mom arrives, only to make matters worse when she announces they’re moving again–to New York City. There’s no spoiler alert here, because the ending was a delicious one and justice was served. Walls’ novel is compelling, touching, triumphant–and not to be missed. But who knew the power of emus to save the human soul?