The Silver Star
  • The Silver Star
  • The Silver Star

The Silver Star

4.0 195
by Jeannette Walls

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From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls’ gripping new novel that "transports us with her powerful storytelling...She contemplates the extraordinary bravery needed to confront real-life demons in a world where the hardest thing to do may be to not run away" (O, The Oprah Magazine).

It is 1970 in

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From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls’ gripping new novel that "transports us with her powerful storytelling...She contemplates the extraordinary bravery needed to confront real-life demons in a world where the hardest thing to do may be to not run away" (O, The Oprah Magazine).

It is 1970 in a small town in California. “Bean” Holladay is twelve and her sister, Liz, is fifteen when their artistic mother, Charlotte, takes off to find herself, leaving her girls enough money to last a month or two. When Bean returns from school one day and sees a police car outside the house, she and Liz decide to take the bus to Virginia, where their widowed Uncle Tinsley lives in the decaying mansion that’s been in Charlotte’s family for generations.

An impetuous optimist, Bean soon discovers who her father was, and hears stories about why their mother left Virginia in the first place. Money is tight, and the sisters start babysitting and doing office work for Jerry Maddox, foreman of the mill in town, who bullies his workers, his tenants, his children, and his wife. Liz is whip-smart—an inventor of word games, reader of Edgar Allan Poe, nonconformist. But when school starts in the fall, it’s Bean who easily adjusts, and Liz who becomes increasingly withdrawn. And then something happens to Liz in the car with Maddox.

Jeannette Walls has written a deeply moving novel about triumph over adversity and about people who find a way to love each other and the world, despite its flaws and injustices.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Readers of Walls’s bestselling memoir The Glass Castle may find this new novel too familiar to be entirely satisfying. When 12-year-old Bean Holladay and her 15-year-old sister, Liz, are abandoned by their narcissistic, unstable mother, Charlotte, they make their way to Byler, Va., Charlotte’s hometown, in search of an uncle they barely know. In Byler, Bean and Liz find not only their uncle, Tinsley, but also a community eager to see how Charlotte’s girls have turned out. The sisters attract particular attention from Jerry Maddox, foreman at the town mill, which the Holladays owned and operated in better times. Walls understands in her bones how growing up with a mentally ill parent can give children extraordinary skills and resilience but also leave them without any sense of the boundary between ordinary behavior and abuse. It’s clear from the beginning that Bean and Liz’s relationship with Maddox won’t end well, and their newfound family may not be able to sustain the damage. When Bean reads To Kill a Mockingbird in school, she seems like a long-lost cousin to Scout, and to the young Walls herself. The other characters are too often thinly conceived, but she makes for a strong and spunky protagonist. Agent: Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, WME Entertainment. (June)
The New York Times Book Review - Chelsea Cain
The Silver Star turns out to be an absorbing, unsentimental tale of childhood, place and emus.
“By turns witty, warm and provocative, this all ages read by the author of The Glass Castle is a perfect choice for your high school mother-daughter book club or to throw in your beach bag this summer.”
Kirkus Reviews
Memoirist Walls, who has written about her own nomadic upbringing (The Glass Castle, 2006) and her remarkable grandmother (the novelized biography Half Broke Horses, 2009), turns to out-and-out fiction in this story about two young sisters who leave behind their life on the road for the small Virginia town their mother escaped years before. By 1970, 12-year-old Bean and 15-year-old Liz are used to moving from town to town with their would-be actress/singer mother, Charlotte. When Charlotte takes off to find herself in San Diego, the Holladay sisters know how to fend for themselves, living on potpies and getting themselves to school for several weeks. But then the authorities start sniffing around. Scared they'll be carted off to foster care, Liz decides they should head cross-country to Byler, Va., the hometown Charlotte left for good when Bean was still a baby. Clearly, Walls borrows from her own experience in describing the girls' peripatetic life, but she doesn't waste undue time on the road trip before getting the girls to Byler, where the real drama begins. The Holladays used to own the town's cotton mill, but all that's left is the decaying mansion where Charlotte's widowed brother still lives. Less cutesy eccentric than he first seems, Tinsley gives the girls the security they have missed. Tinsley also reflects Byler itself, a conservative Southern town struggling to adjust to shifting realities of racial integration and the Vietnam War. Bean joins the newly integrated school's pep squad and thrives by assimilating; creative, sensitive Liz chafes under pressure to conform. Then, Charlotte shows up wanting to take the girls to New York City. Walls throws in an unnecessary melodrama concerning an evil bully of a man who threatens Liz with violence and worse, but the novel's strength lies in capturing the complexity of Bean's and Liz's shifting loyalties. Walls turns what could have been another sentimental girl-on-the-run-finds-home cliché into a fresh consideration of both adolescence and the South on the cusp of major social change.
“[A] captivating, read-in-one-sitting, coming-of-age adventure.”
Vanity Fair - Elissa Schappell
“Jeannette Walls jumps off the memoir train and hitches a ride on the novel form with The Silver Star.”
O, the Oprah Magazine - Abbe Wright
“Jeannette Walls transports us with her powerful storytelling…Using Bean’s expertly crafted, naively stubborn voice, Walls contemplates the extraordinary bravery needed to confront real-life demons in a world where the hardest thing to do may be to not run away.”
The Patriot Ledger - Amy MacKinnon
“Walls writes with equal tenderness for her most beloved characters and the least among them. It takes a compassionate soul to find the beauty in despair and that’s what Walls does best.”
“Walls writes with easy assurance about Liz and Bean, proving in fiction as she did in her memoir, The Glass Castle, that she knows children’s hearts—as well as the evil that can lurk in the hearts of grown-ups.”
USA Today - Carmela Ciuraru
“Walls is adept at steeping her characters in some intense, old-fashioned drama…The Silver Star is a lovely, moving novel with an appealing narrator in Bean.”
Entertainment Weekly - Karen Valby
“At heart Walls is a wonderful yarn-spinner…This is a page-turner, built for hammock or beach reading.”
The Daily Beast - Nicholas Mancusi
“Walls writes with the paired-down incisiveness of a memoirist looking for the significance of every incident, but it’s the way she draws Bean, so strong even in the face of all the additional challenges that come with her age, gender, and innocence, that will make this book a hit with readers.”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch - Holly Silva
Walls has written yet another gripping story of a courageous and sensible girl surviving the adults around her.” - Sarah Rachel Egelman
“[The Silver Star is] an examination of bad parenting and resilient children in a rich and complex setting. Bean is a compelling character, and it is fascinating to watch her ideas about both her mother and her sister change as the book progresses.”
The Columbus Dispatch - Margaret Quamme
“Walls’ writing is lively and her dialogue crips, and the girls’ struggles with their mother ring true.” - Kristin Fritz
“Jeannette Walls is a master at her craft. In the same way she spoke candidly of her own parents’ shortcomings in The Glass Castle, in The Silver Star she lends this candid voice to Bean, and captures the inner workings of an adolescent’s mind perfectly….The Silver Star stands strong as its own story, wholly unique and wholly captivating.”
Dallas Morning News - Jane Sumner
“A polished work of fiction…Engaging…Fans will find echoes of her coruscating family chronicle that first struck a chord with readers in 2005, but The Silver Star is the novel of a more confident, mature and calculating writer…[an] atmospheric bildungsroman of adolescent passage, changing times and bent but unbroken family bonds.”
Real Simple
“With immense charm and warmth, Walls, the author of The Glass Castle, has created a lively account of kids finding a way to thrive in the absence of reliable parents.”
Campus Circle Magazine - Angela Mattano
“A great spirit comes through The Silver Star…Jeannette Walls knows how to make characters pop off the page (and tear your heart out in the process.)”
San Francisco Chronicle - S. Kirk Walsh
“Told with a balanced, yet whimsical, voice of insight and awareness...[The Silver Star] is set during the Nixon ‘70s and Vietname War, and the author adeptly evokes the tumultuous era in the narrative without letting it overwhelm the primary thread of Bean’s coming-of-age adventures.”
Deseret News - Elizabeth Reid
“[A] moving book…With relatable characters and a plot that can both rend and heal hearts, The Silver Star is a captivating novel.”
Everett Herald
“Walls weaves a story of triumph and justice.”

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Product Details

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6.42(w) x 9.14(h) x 1.04(d)

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The Silver Star

  • My sister saved my life when I was just a baby. Here’s what happened. After a fight with her family, Mom decided to leave home in the middle of the night, taking us with her. I was only a few months old, so Mom put me in the infant carrier. She set it on the roof of the car while she stashed some things in the trunk, then she settled Liz, who was three, in the backseat. Mom was going through a rough period at the time and had a lot on her mind—craziness, craziness, craziness, she’d say later. Completely forgetting that she’d left me on the roof, Mom drove off.

    Liz started shrieking my name and pointing up. At first Mom didn’t understand what Liz was saying, then she realized what she’d done and slammed on the brakes. The carrier slid forward onto the hood, but since I was strapped in, I was all right. In fact, I wasn’t even crying. In the years afterward, whenever Mom told the story, which she found hilarious and acted out in dramatic detail, she liked to say thank goodness Liz had her wits about her, otherwise that carrier would have flown right off and I’d have been a goner.

    Liz remembered the whole thing vividly, but she never thought it was funny. She had saved me. That was the kind of sister Liz was. And that was why, the night the whole mess started, I wasn’t worried that Mom had been gone for four days. I was more worried about the chicken potpies.

    I really hated it when the crust on our chicken potpies got burned, but the timer on the toaster oven was broken, and so that night I was staring into the oven’s little glass window because, once those pies began turning brown, you had to watch them the entire time.

    Liz was setting the table. Mom was off in Los Angeles, at some recording studio auditioning for a role as a backup singer.

    “Do you think she’ll get the job?” I asked Liz.

    “I have no idea,” Liz said.

    “I do. I have a good feeling about this one.”

    Mom had been going into the city a lot ever since we had moved to Lost Lake, a little town in the Colorado Desert of Southern California. Usually she was gone for only a night or two, never this long. We didn’t know exactly when she’d be back, and since the telephone had been turned off—Mom was arguing with the phone company about some long-distance calls she said she didn’t make—she had no way of calling us.

    Still, it didn’t seem like a big deal. Mom’s career had always taken up a sizeable chunk of her time. Even when we were younger, she’d have a sitter or a friend watch us while she flew off to some place like Nashville—so Liz and I were used to being on our own. Liz was in charge, since she was fifteen and I’d just turned twelve, but I wasn’t the kind of kid who needed to be babied.

    When Mom was away, all we ate were chicken potpies. I loved them and could eat them every night. Liz said that if you had a glass of milk with your chicken potpie, you were getting a dinner that included all four food groups—meat, vegetables, grain, and dairy—so it was the perfect diet.

    Plus, they were fun to eat. You each got your very own pie in the nifty little tinfoil pie plate, and you could do whatever you wanted with it. I liked to break up the crust and mush it together with the bits of carrots and peas and the yellow gunk. Liz thought mushing it all together was uncouth. It also made the crust soggy, and what she found so appealing about chicken potpies was the contrast between the crispy crust and the goopy filling. She preferred to leave the crust intact, cutting dainty wedges with each bite.

    Once the piecrusts had turned that wonderful golden brown, with the little ridged edges almost but not quite burned, I told Liz they were ready. She pulled them out of the toaster oven, and we sat down at the red Formica table.

    At dinnertime, when Mom was away, we liked to play games Liz made up. One she called Chew-and-Spew, where you waited until the other person had a mouthful of food or milk, then you tried to make her laugh. Liz pretty much always won, because it was sort of easy to make me laugh. In fact, sometimes I laughed so hard the milk came shooting out of my nose.

    Another game she made up was called the Lying Game. One person gave two statements, one true, the second a lie, and the other person got to ask five questions about the statements, then had to guess which one was the lie. Liz usually won the Lying Game, too, but as with Chew-and-Spew, it didn’t matter who won. What was fun was playing the game. That night I was excited because I had what I thought was an unbelievable stumper: A frog’s eyeballs go into its mouth when it’s swallowing or a frog’s blood is green.

    “That’s easy,” Liz said. “Green blood is the lie.”

    “I can’t believe you guessed it right away!”

    “We dissected frogs in biology.”

    I was still talking about how hilarious and bizarre it was that a frog used its eyeballs to swallow when Mom walked through the door carrying a white box tied with red string. “Key lime pie for my girls!” she announced, holding up the box. Her face was glowing and she had a giddy smile. “It’s a special occasion, because our lives are about to change.”

    As Mom cut the pie and passed the slices around, she told us that while she’d been at that recording studio, she’d met a man. He was a record producer named Mark Parker, and he’d told her that the reason she wasn’t landing gigs as a backup singer was that her voice was too distinctive and she was upstaging the lead singers.

    “Mark said I wasn’t cut out to play second fiddle to anyone,” Mom explained. He told her she had star quality, and that night he took her out to dinner and they talked about how to jump-start her career. “He’s so smart and funny,” Mom said. “You girls will adore him.”

    “Is he serious, or is he just a tire-kicker?” I asked.

    “Watch it, Bean,” Mom said.

    Bean’s not my real name, of course, but that’s what everyone calls me. Bean.

    It wasn’t my idea. When I was born, Mom named me Jean, but the first time Liz laid eyes on me, she called me Jean the Bean because I was teeny like a bean and because it rhymed—Liz was always rhyming—and then simply Bean because it was shorter. But sometimes she would go and make it longer, calling me the Beaner or Bean Head, maybe Clean Bean when I’d taken a bath, Lean Bean because I was so skinny, Queen Bean just to make me feel good, or Mean Bean if I was in a bad mood. Once, when I got food poisoning after eating a bowl of bad chili, she called me Green Bean, and then later, when I was hugging the toilet and feeling even worse, she called me Greener Beaner.

    Liz couldn’t resist playing with words. That was why she loved the name of our new town, Lost Lake. “Let’s go look for it,” she’d say, or “I wonder who lost it,” or “Maybe the lake should ask for directions.”

    We’d moved to Lost Lake from Pasadena four months ago, on New Year’s Day of 1970, because Mom said a change of scenery would give us a fresh start for the new decade. Lost Lake was a pretty neat place, in my opinion. Most of the people who lived there were Mexicans who kept chickens and goats in their yards, which was where they practically lived themselves, cooking on grills and dancing to the Mexican music that blared from their radios. Dogs and cats roamed the dusty streets, and irrigation canals at the edge of town carried water to the crop fields. No one looked sideways at you if you wore your big sister’s hand-me-downs or your mom drove an old brown Dart. Our neighbors lived in little adobe houses, but we rented a cinder-block bungalow. It was Mom’s idea to paint the cinder blocks turquoise blue and the door and windowsills tangerine orange. “Let’s not even pretend we want to blend in,” she said.

    Mom was a singer, songwriter, and actress. She had never actually been in a movie or made a record, but she hated to be called “aspiring,” and truth be told, she was a little older than the people described that way in the movie magazines she was always buying. Mom’s thirty-sixth birthday was coming up, and she complained that the singers who were getting all the attention, like Janis Joplin and Joni Mitchell, were at least ten years younger than her.

    Even so, Mom always said her big break was right around the corner. Sometimes she got callbacks after auditions, but she usually came home shaking her head and saying the guys at the studio were just tire-kickers who wanted a second look at her cleavage. So while Mom had her career, it wasn’t one that produced much in the way of income—yet. Mostly we lived on Mom’s inheritance. It hadn’t been a ton of money to begin with, and by the time we moved to Lost Lake, we were on a fairly tight budget.

    When Mom wasn’t taking trips into L.A.—which were draining because the drive was nearly four hours in each direction—she tended to sleep late and spend the day writing songs, playing them on one of her four guitars. Her favorite, a 1961 Zemaitis, cost about a year’s rent. She also had a Gibson Southern Jumbo, a honey-colored Martin, and a Spanish guitar made from Brazilian rosewood. If she wasn’t practicing her songs, she was working on a musical play based on her life, about breaking away from her stifling Old South family, jettisoning her jerk of a husband and string of deadbeat boyfriends—together with all the tire-kickers who didn’t reach the boyfriend stage—and discovering her true voice in music. She called the play “Finding the Magic.”

    Mom always talked about how the secret to the creative process was finding the magic. That, she said, was what you needed to do in life as well. Find the magic. In musical harmony, in the rain on your face and the sun on your bare shoulders, in the morning dew that soaked your sneakers and the wildflowers you picked for free in the roadside ditch, in love at first sight and those sad memories of the one who got away. “Find the magic,” Mom always said. “And if you can’t find the magic,” she added, “then make the magic.”

    The three of us were magic, Mom liked to say. She assured us that no matter how famous she became, nothing would ever be more important to her than her two girls. We were a tribe of three, she said. Three was a perfect number, she’d go on. Think of it. The holy trinity, three musketeers, three kings of Orient, three little pigs, three stooges, three blind mice, three wishes, three strikes, three cheers, three’s a charm. The three of us were all we needed, Mom said.

    But that didn’t keep her from going out on dates with tire-kickers.

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