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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