Readers of the best-selling memoir The Glass Castle will be familiar with Charlotte Holladay's parenting style in Walls's new novel. Charlotte, a narcissistic single mother of two, is an aspiring actress and singer with grandiose dreams who deeply loves her daughters but is incapable of providing them with a stable home. In summer 1970, after their mother abandons them for weeks, as she puts it, "to make some time and space for myself," 12-year-old narrator Bean and her 15-year-old sister Liz embark on a cross-country bus trip to seek out the relatives they've never met. Their Uncle Tinsley, an eccentric bachelor, reluctantly takes the girls into their mother's old family home in Byler, VA, a small, stratified Southern town on the cusp of integration. Older sister Liz is a lover of puns and fan of author Lewis Carroll, and her charming wordplay enlivens Bean's narration. VERDICT This engrossing story is told with the warmth and humor that will appeal to fans of Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees. Readers will find themselves rooting for the spunky heroine and her smart, offbeat sister as they persevere in the face of multiple hardships. [See Prepub Alert, 1/6/13.]—Lauren Gilbert, Sachem P.L., Holbrook, NY
“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.”
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.”
“[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.”
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.”
Bookreporter.com - 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.”
EverdayEbook.com - 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.”
“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.”
“Walls weaves a story of triumph and justice.”
Read an Excerpt
The birds woke me early the next morning. I had never heard such noisy birds. I went to the window, and they were everywhere—in the trees right outside, on the ground, swooping in and out of the barn like they owned the place, all the different chirps and tweets and warbling making this incredible commotion.
Liz and I got dressed and walked down to the house. When we knocked on the front door, there was no answer, so we went around to the back. Through a window, we could see Uncle Tinsley moving around inside the kitchen. Liz rapped on the windowpane, and Uncle Tinsley opened the door but blocked it like he had the night before. He had shaved, his wet hair was combed, the part was straight, and instead of his bathrobe, he was wearing gray trousers and a light blue shirt with TMH monogrammed on the pocket.
“How did you girls sleep?” he asked.
“Just fine,” Liz said.
“The birds sure are noisy,” I said.
“I don’t use pesticides, so the birds love it around here,” Uncle Tinsley said.
“Did Mom call, by any chance?” Liz asked.
“She does have the number, right?” I asked.
“This number hasn’t changed since we got it—two, four, six, eight,” he said. “First phone number handed out in Byler, so we got to choose it. Speaking of choosing, how do you like your poached eggs?”
“Hard!” I said.
“Soft,” Liz said.
“Have a seat over there.” He pointed to some rusty cast-iron lawn furniture.
A few minutes later, he came out carrying that same silver tray, loaded up with a stack of toast and three plates that each had a poached egg in the center. The plates had gold curlicues around the rim, but the edges were chipped. I picked up a corner of my egg and scooted a piece of toast under it, then stabbed the yolk with my fork, chopped up the white part of the egg, and mushed it all together.
“Bean always mutilates her food,” Liz told Uncle Tinsley. “It’s disgusting.”
“It tastes better mixed up,” I said. “But that’s not the only reason. First of all, you don’t have to take as many bites, so it saves time. Second, you don’t have to work as hard chewing, because if it’s all mushed up, it’s sort of prechewed. Finally, food gets all mixed up in your stomach anyway, so that’s obviously the way it was meant to be.”
Uncle Tinsley gave a little chuckle and turned to Liz. “Is she always like this?”
“Oh, yeah,” Liz said. “She’s the Beanhead.”
We offered to wash the dishes, but Uncle Tinsley insisted it was easier if he did them himself, without a couple of kids underfoot. He told us to go off and do whatever girls our age did.
Liz and I walked around to the front of the house, where there were two big trees with shiny dark leaves and big white flowers. Beyond them, on the far side of the lawn, was a row of huge green bushes with a gap in the middle. We walked through the gap and found ourselves in an area surrounded by the dark green bushes. A few tough irises pushed up through the weeds in old, overgrown flower beds. In the center was a round brick-edged pond. It was full of dead leaves, but in the water beneath, I saw a flash of brilliant orange.
“Fish!” I yelled. “Goldfish! There’s goldfish in this pond!”
We knelt and studied the orange fish fluttering in and out of the shadows beneath the clumps of dead leaves. I decided this would be a great place for Fido to have a swim. The poor turtle had to be feeling cooped up after all that time in his box.
I ran back to the barn, but when I opened the Tupperware, Fido was floating in the water. He’d seemed fine when I fed him earlier. I set him down on the tabletop, scooting him along with my finger, trying to jump-start him, even though I knew it was hopeless. Fido was dead, and it was all my fault. I had thought I could protect Fido and take care of him, but that bus trip had been too much for the poor little guy. He’d have been better off if I’d left him in Lost Lake.
I put Fido back in the Tupperware dish and carried him out to the pond. Liz put an arm around me and said we needed to ask
Uncle Tinsley where to bury him.
Uncle Tinsley was still puttering in the kitchen when we knocked.
“I thought the two of you were going to go off and play,” he said.
“Fido died,” I said.
Uncle Tinsley glanced at Liz.
“Bean’s turtle,” she said.
“We need to know where to bury him,” I said.
Uncle Tinsley stepped out of the house and closed the door behind him. I handed him the Tupperware dish, and he looked down at Fido. “We bury all the family pets in the family cemetery,” he said. He led us back to the barn, where he picked up a shovel with a long wooden handle, then we all headed up the hill behind it.
“Fido’s a peculiar name for a turtle,” he said as we walked along.
“Bean really wanted a dog,” Liz said, explaining how Mom had told us it was always the kids who wanted the pet but the mother who ended up taking care of it, and she had no interest in walking and cleaning up after a dog. So she’d bought me a turtle.
“Fido means ‘I am faithful,’ ” I said. “Fido was a very faithful turtle.”
“I bet he was,” Uncle Tinsley said.
Beyond the barn were a bunch of dilapidated wooden buildings. Uncle Tinsley pointed out the smokehouse, the milking shed and the foaling shed, the henhouse, the icehouse, and the springhouse, explaining that Mayfield used to be a real working farm, though hands did most of the work. He still had all 205 acres, including a stretch of woods, as well as the big hay field where the cemetery was. These days, a farmer up the road, Mr. Muncie, hayed the field and gave Uncle Tinsley eggs and vegetables in return.
We passed through an orchard, Uncle Tinsley showing us the apple, peach, and cherry trees, and out into a large pasture. At the top of the pasture, a cluster of trees shaded the family cemetery, which was surrounded by a rusting wrought-iron fence. The cemetery was weedy, and a number of the weathered old headstones had toppled over. Uncle Tinsley led us to one well-tended grave with a newish headstone. This was Martha’s, he said, with a vacant spot next to it for him when the time came.
The pets, he explained, were buried around the perimeter, near their owners. “Let’s put Fido near Martha,” Uncle Tinsley said. “I think she would have liked him.”
Uncle Tinsley dug a small hole, and I placed Fido in it, using the Tupperware dish as his coffin. I found a nice piece of white quartz for a headstone. Uncle Tinsley gave a short eulogy. Fido had been a brave and indeed a faithful turtle, he said, who had made the long and perilous journey from California in order to serve as a guardian for his two sister-owners. Once he’d gotten them safely to Virginia, Fido’s job was over, and he felt free to leave them for that secret island in the middle of the ocean that is turtle heaven.
The eulogy made me feel a lot better about both Fido and Uncle Tinsley. On the way back down the hill, I asked about the goldfish we’d found in the pond. “The fish are koi,” Uncle Tinsley said. “That was Mother’s garden. One of the finest private gardens in all of Virginia, back in the day. Mother won prizes for it. She was the envy of every lady in the garden club.”
We swung around the barn and the big white house came into view. I started telling Uncle Tinsley about my house dream and how, when we first arrived at Mayfield, I realized it was the actual house in the dream.
Uncle Tinsley became thoughtful. He rested the shovel against an old water trough in front of the barn. “I guess you’d better see the inside of the house, then,” he said. “Just to make sure.”
We followed Uncle Tinsley up the big porch steps. He took a deep breath and opened the door.
The front hall was large and dark, with a lot of wooden cabinets that had glass doors. Everything was a mess. Newspapers, magazines, books, and mail were stacked high on the tables and the floor, alongside boxes of rocks and bottles filled with dirt and sand and liquids.
“It may look a tad cluttered,” he said, “but that’s because I’m in the middle of reorganizing everything.”
“It’s not so bad,” Liz said. “It just needs a little tidying up.”
“We can help,” I said.
“Oh, no. Everything’s under control. Everything has its place, and I know where everything is.”
Uncle Tinsley showed us the parlor, the dining room, and the ballroom. Oil paintings hung crooked on the walls and a few were falling out of their frames. The Persian carpets were worn and frayed, the silk curtains were faded and torn, and the stained wallpaper was peeling away from the walls. A grand piano covered with a dark green velvet cloth stood in the big ballroom with the French doors. There was all this stuff piled on every available surface— more stacks of paper and notebooks, antique binoculars, pendulum clocks, rolled-up maps, stacks of chipped china, old pistols, ships in bottles, statues of rearing horses, framed photographs, and all these little wooden boxes, one filled with coins, another with buttons, another with old medals. Everything was coated with a thick layer of dust.
“There sure is a ton of stuff in here,” I said.
“Yes, but every single thing you see has value,” Uncle Tinsley said. “If you have the brains to appreciate it.”
He led us up a curving staircase and down a long hall. At the end of the hall, he stopped in front of a pair of doors that faced each other. Both had brass door knockers shaped like birds. “This is the bird wing,” Uncle Tinsley told us. “This is where you’ll stay. Until your mother comes to pick you up.”
“We’re not sleeping in the barn anymore?” I asked.
“Not without Fido there to protect you.”
Uncle Tinsley opened the doors. We each had our own room, he told us. Both were wallpapered with bird motifs—common birds, like robins and cardinals, and exotic birds, like cockatiels and flamingos. The bird wing, he explained, had been designed for his twin aunts, who were little girls when the house was built. They had loved birds and kept a big Victorian birdhouse full of different kinds of finches.
“Where was Mom’s room?” I asked.“She never mentioned it?” he asked. “The whole bird wing was hers.” He pointed through the door of one room. “When she brought you back from the hospital after you were born, she put you in that cradle in the corner there.”I looked over at the cradle. It was small and white and made of wicker, and I couldn’t understand quite why, but it made me feel very safe.