Jeannette Walls is known for Half-Broke Horses and TheGlass Castle, two books about the author and her family. In Walls' new book, the audience meets Bean and Liz, two girls with a neglectful mother, who make their way across the country to find family.
In 1970, Bean, the youngest, and Liz, the eldest daughter of Charlotte, an aspiring singer/actress, leave their house when police arrive to check in on them. Their mother isn’t around much and often leaves them at home to go to L.A. The girls don’t want to end up in the system, so they hop a bus to Virginia, their mother’s original home, and meet their uncle. The mansion that the family lived in is now decaying and neglected, and Uncle Tinsley does not have the time or resources to fix it up. Although he is a good and loving man, the girls feel the need to help out financially, so they get jobs with Jerry Maddox, the foreman at the local mill. The girls don’t know about the history between this man and their uncle, along with the problems that Maddox created in this town before. Unfortunately, Liz is embroiled in an incident that turns her life upside down and Bean, the optimist, will do anything to get her sister justice. This is a story of courage and family.
Bean is a fierce, funny, sweet girl who wants to protect her family. Although she is younger than Liz, she is wise beyond her years and loyal. Liz is a brilliant girl. She is talented and witty, but becomes withdrawn in her new setting. They make a good team, and Walls does a wonderful job of illustrating the sisterly bond. Charlotte, their mother, is a frustrating, pathetic character. Throughout the book, I just wanted to slap her. She claims that her girls are her world, but will abandon them and her responsibility for weeks at a time because she either has a “job” or needs space. Her behavior when she is around is manic and insecure. It seems she is the child in their trio, rather than Bean and Liz. Some people aren’t meant to have children and Charlotte is a one of them. Then we have Uncle Tinsley, a loving man who hasn't done much since the mill his family owned was sold. Most of the adults in this novel have some sort of deficit, which seems to be a theme in Walls' writing. The one adult who seems to be without fault is Bean's aunt who works hard to provide for her family on a meager income and loves them fiercely.
I enjoyed this story, but I didn’t feel satisfied in the end. The big plot point wrapped up, but we’re still left questioning what will happen with the family and the girls down the road. I wanted the story to dig deeper and although it hit on some hard points, I wish Walls would have kept going. School integration, neglect, and misuse of the law are some of the mentioned themes that could be further explored. There was a lot to be examined in these pages and I felt it was not satisfyingly done. The characters were fleshed out beautifully, but the plot needed more exploration.
If you are a fan of Jeannette Walls and The Silver Star then here are some other titles that may interest you:
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Walls mentions Lee’s novel in The Silver Star and there are similar themes of injustice, racism, and creative, sharp young girls.
- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith is a coming of age story about a young girl growing up with a poor, but tight knit family in the slums of Brooklyn.
- Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. Like The Silver Star, this is a coming of age story and a book marketed to adults, but easily transferable to young adults. It’s about a young girl who recently lost her uncle, the only person she could relate to, and how she deals with that.