Monday, July 22, 2013

When you wish upon a silver star . . .

The Silver Star by Jeanette Walls
I first want to say that I LOVE Jeanette Walls.  Probably not as much as my friend Cari whose mother arranged for her to go to a local  Jeanette Walls book signing. Cari considers her Walls a literary hero and proudly displays the picture at the book signing with Cari and her mom flanking Walls all three of them with gorgeous triumphant smiles on their faces prominently on her classroom desk.

When I think of my favorite books of the last 10 years, The Glass Castle makes the list.  Walls did this incredible thing while writing her memoir; she allowed the readers to love and hate her parents all at the same time.  She delicately showed their relationship with no want of sympathy because ultimately, her life story is one of hope even if her parents were neglectful and mentally ill, she loved them and it was the life she knew before she escaped.

I liked Walls second book, Half Broke Horses the story of her fiesty grandmother told in the first person.  With this book, Walls still worked with a true story, but straddled the worlds of memoir and fiction (a true-life novel).  Because I loved The Glass Castle so much, Half Broke Horses left me feeling a bit unsatisfied, but I loved the concept enough to enjoy it although recollecting even fragments of the book just a year or so after reading it requires serious memory mining.

For my 39th birthday (in June), Cari gave me Walls' most current book, The Silver Star.  "I haven't even read it yet.  I can't believe I am giving it to you before I read it, but my mom already told me she got me a copy, so here you go." She looked at the cover with the two girls treading through the water longingly and handed it to me.

I couldn't wait to read it thinking that the narrative of Bean and Liz's journey to their neglectful mother's hometown, a crazy uncle, a long lost step brother, a town crazy man, a trial, and their adventures in this traditional Virginia town would satisfy longing I had for Walls' hopeful style after The Glass Castle.  I did like The Silver Star, I just didn't love it and I wanted to love it because I love Jeanette Walls.  The Silver Star was easy to read, and the characters are lovable, but everything feels unfinished and a bit too much like a To Kill a Mockingbird wannabe experiment.  Crazy small southern townspeople, a trial, life seen through the perspective of a little girl, even the mention of To Kill a Mockingbird . . .

The crazy thing is that I mentioned to Cari after I finished The Silver Star that I liked it, but I didn't love it, that I thought it was trying too hard to be something it wasn't, that it felt like Walls had To Kill a Mockingbird (which Cari and I have both taught for the past 15 years) on the brain as she wrote the book, and Cari, a die hard Jeanette Walls fan, agreed with me on all points.  So it isn't just me being critical or overthinking it or just knowing To Kill a Mockingbird too well.

I didn't get chills when I read The Silver Star, but I did end up confused and a bit bewildered by the whole emu thing closer to the end.  It seemed so odd and too out of place and the connections weren't clear enough to make it feel like a smooth symbol (instead of one completely forced on the reader).

So . . . I am still hoping for another Jeannette Walls book to come close to her magical touch in The Glass Castle.  I will continue wishing upon a silver star.

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