The Silver Star

If you have read the harrowing memoir, The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls, you will hear many resonant cords in this work of fiction. But in The Silver Star, Jeanette Walls has the liberty of creating her own endings and romanticizing her characters.

The story focuses on two sisters, fifteen-year-old Liz and twelve-year-old "Bean" (short for Jean). (Wall's real-life older sister is named Lori.) When their mother, the artistic Charlotte, abandons them to seek fame and fortune in New York, the girls are left with enough money to last a month. Both products of a home with an unreliable mother - a mother who "found something wrong with every place she ever lived" - they embark on a journey to find their uncle. There quest ends in Byler,  Virginia where they discover their uncle living in a cluttered, dirty mansion. Once this home was the jewel in the crown of a thriving mill town and Uncle Tinsley's family owned the mill. Now the mill is not operational, unemployment is rampant and Uncle Tinsley is merely a lonely widower living as a recluse. He is also a hoarder, as is Wall's real-life mother. But in this story, Uncle Tinsley is both sensible (short of the phobia he attributes to being the family archivist) and caring.

This reader found the decaying mansion reminiscent of that of Miss Havisham in Great Expectations. Time has stopped for Uncle Tinsley when his wife died the year before. Layers of dust have gathered on everything. There are other Dickensian elements in The Silver Star as well as a references to Alice in Wonderland.

The book's strength lies in imaginative story, believable narrator, and beautiful, descriptive language. Bean is a young girl with a short fuse who fearlessly stands up to injustice. Walls makes it very clear that evil lurks in the world and often it is in the guise of a feckless adult. Like Steven Spielberg, she knows without doubt that children are at the mercy of those adults. Also like Spielberg, she is able to capture what it feels like to be a teen.

If you are looking for a great read for yourself or your adolescent daughter, The Silver Star should be on your list.

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