The Silver Star

Readers of Jeannette Walls's memoir The Glass Castle will recognize some of the pivotal elements in her debut novel, The Silver Star. Twelve-year-old Bean is a feisty, precocious character reminiscent of Walls's self-portrayal; her older sister, Liz, is a prodigy who voraciously reads the classics and skillfully evades a child kidnapper when she and Bean are traveling.

Their mother, Charlotte Halladay, aspires to be a star on par with Joni Mitchell, and is constantly chasing her dream in Los Angeles, leaving little time or energy for parenthood. She also has a penchant for choosing boyfriends who will betray her, whom she derisively refers to as "tirekickers." When Charlotte has a breakdown and flees to Los Angeles for an even longer period than usual, Liz and Bean--fearful the police will try to force them into foster care--decide to visit their uncle Tinsley in Virginia. What follows involves the girls' attempts to integrate into an unfamiliar rural community, discover their family past and contend with a trauma that threatens to undermine these efforts.

Their well-meaning but unstable mother--who gets some of the novel's best lines--mirrors in some ways Walls's own intellectually rebellious, voluntarily homeless mother. Her voice, along with Bean's, may be the greatest strength of The Silver Star.

Even in the tiny town of Byler, Va., the political conflagrations of the early 1970s are felt. Bean and Liz arrive just in time for the first year of racial integration at their school, while the specter of the Vietnam War looms. Walls's novel is as much about the period and its effects in a remote area of America as it is about two sisters struggling to come of age without parental support and against all odds. --Ilana Teitelbaum

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