The Silver Star

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On a recent trip to New York City, I found Jeannette Walls’ novel The Silver Star at a Barnes and Noble. Having read Walls’ two other books: her memoir The Glass Castle and true-life novel Half-broke Horses, I wanted to see what her first fully fiction novel was like.

The story focuses on two sisters, twelve-year-old Jean “Bean” Halladay and fifteen-year-old Liz, living with their unstable, sporadic mother in Northern California during the early 1970s. After their mother decides to take off for some time and leave the two girls alone, Bean and Liz decide to journey east to Virginia to stay with their Uncle Tinsley.

Although initially caught off guard by their arrival, Tinsley eventually warms up to his nieces and shows them around town. The girls soon find themselves caught up with prominent town businessman and bully Jerry Maddox. Several events unfold leading the sisters to find out more about their family’s past and establishing a relationship with their relatives.

I could see several similarities between the characters and Walls’ own life. Having read The Glass Castle several times, I drew the parallel between Bean and Liz’s mother and Walls’ own mother, which she described as free-spirited and carefree in her memoir. I could also see Jeannette’s bond with her older sister Lori reflected in the bond between Bean and Liz.

While I was enthralled with the setting and characters, I felt that the story was unbalanced in several ways. Several events were dragged out much longer than they needed to be and I found myself waiting to find out what happened next. This contrasted from Walls’ other books, in which I could not stop reading earnestly, with the events moved along much faster. I was a little disappointed with the ending, as I felt that it was abrupt and somewhat predictable.

There were a few elements of the novel that I found relatable. The sudden relocation from California to Virginia has a different emotional effect on each of the girls, with Bean acclimating better to the change than Liz. I liked that Walls made each of the sisters have their own reaction to the change, instead of having them both adjust well. It created more conflict and contrast to the storyline.

While I’m still a fan of Walls’ writing, I’m hoping that her next novel has more substance to it. The Silver Star is a decent attempt by Walls at fiction, incorporating her own personal experiences into the story.

 

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Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek

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I first heard about Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek when I read an article about its author, 15-year-old Maya Van Wagenen. So when I came across the book at my public library, I decided to read it, curious to see how well she could write, being younger than most authors.
Popular is a memoir documenting Van Wagenen’s eighth grade year. During that year, she decided to follow advice from a 1950s book about popularity written by Betty Cornell, a prominent fashion model of the time. The book contains advice on clothes, makeup, hair, posture and attitude. Although most of the trends about appearance seemed outdated, Maya took the risk by buying the items described in the book and wearing them in public.
Upon reading it, I was instantly transported back in time to my eighth grade year, which wasn’t my best year of school. Maya writes about her experiences of not fitting in, dealing with the obnoxious people in her class and the classes that she doesn’t necessarily want to take. Even though I finished eighth grade years ago, I could relate to Maya’s experiences so well, it made me think that she had somehow read my journal from those years.
The book itself follows a journal-like format, with each chapter covering one month in the school year. Pictures are included as visual aides, giving the reader an idea of what Maya wore and experienced during the time. There’s even a personal touch, with many of the chapters and photos including Maya’s family members.
One of the important messages of the book touches on how talking to people can break the ice and create the opportunity to make new friends. As part of her experiment, Maya sat with all the different cliques in her school during lunch time, even the ones that intimidated her. She talks about breaking the invisible walls of cliques by interacting with people outside of her friend group. Her main point emphasizes on how most people are too afraid to take the first step and socializing. Recalling how shy I was in eighth grade, it made me wish I had had the chance to do that. Maya herself is initially shy but became more outgoing as a result of following that advice.
Maya’s final popularity tip on page 254 reads “Popularity is more than looks. It’s not clothes, hair, or even possessions. When we let go of these labels, we see how flimsy and relative they actualy are. Real popularity is kindness and acceptance. It is about who you are, and how you treat others.”
I’m excited to see what’s next from Maya Van Wagenen. If she can write a book this well at only 15, I can only imagine what her future writing career will bring