Silver Star (Walls)

The Silver Star
Jeannette Walls, 2013
Scribner
304 pp.
ISBN-13: 97814516615457



Summary
The Silver Star, Jeannette Walls has written a heartbreaking and redemptive novel about an intrepid girl who challenges the injustice of the adult world—a triumph of imagination and storytelling.

It is 1970 in a small town in California. “Bean” Holladay is twelve and her sister, Liz, is fifteen when their artistic mother, Charlotte, a woman who “found something wrong with every place she ever lived,” 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 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 many stories about why their mother left Virginia in the first place. Because money is tight, Liz and Bean start babysitting and doing office work for Jerry Maddox, foreman of the mill in town—a big man who bullies his workers, his tenants, his children, and his wife. Bean adores her whip-smart older sister—inventor of word games, reader of Edgar Allan Poe, nonconformist. But when school starts in the fall, it’s Bean who easily adjusts and makes friends, and Liz who becomes increasingly withdrawn. And then something happens to Liz.

Jeannette Walls, supremely alert to abuse of adult power, 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. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—April 21, 1960
Where—Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Education—B.A., Barnard College
Currently—lives in New York City and Long Island


For two decades, Jeannette Walls hid her roots. A regular contributor to MSNBC.com, she lives in New York and Long Island and is married to the writer John Taylor. (From the publisher.)

More
Her own words:

When I sat down to write The Glass Castle, there was no doubt in my mind that once the truth about me was out I would lose all my friends and my job. So far, the reaction has been the opposite. I'm just stunned. I think I've shortchanged people and their capacity for compassion. The whole experience has changed my outlook on the world. My brother and I are closer. My sister Lori and I have discussed things we'd never before talked about. I'm back in touch with people I knew in West Virginia whom I hadn't spoken to since I left. My mother wants to correct something in the book: She wants everyone to know that she's an excellent driver.

When I was growing up, I always loved animals. But it was a part of myself that I'd let go dormant as an adult. Writing The Glass Castle, I was reminded of how important animals had always been to me, and that love was reawakened. Not long ago, I rescued two racing greyhounds, Emma and Leopold, and I'm irrationally devoted to them.

When asked in a 2005 Barnes & Noble interview which book influenced her career as a writer, here is her response:

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith [is the book that influenced me the most].... It had a powerful effect on my view of the world and first made me realize how much of an emotional wallop — and comfort — a book could deliver. I read it when I was 11 or 12 and was stunned that a character created 50 years earlier seemed so similar to me. She loved her father even though he was a hopeless drunk, she lived in a rough neighborhood but found beauty in it, and she was determined to make something of her life.

If [I] had a book club, [we] would it be reading...Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. I find books that have a moral and spiritual center, that speak to what is really important and lasting, hugely appealing.

Books are my very favorite gift to give. If you give a book to someone and they really respond to it, you feel you've actually changed their life in some way. I recently gave my father-in-law both volumes of William Manchester's biography of Churchill — and we had long, animated conversations about him and history and the psychology and greatness. If a book really moves me, I'll sometimes buy several copies for friends and give them out even if there's no occasion. I bought The Lovely Bones for four or five people. If someone's not much of a reader, I try to find a book that speaks to one of their passions. Whenever I'm reading a book I enjoy, I always develop a mental list of the people I want to share it with. I love it when people reciprocate; when they call me up and tell me they're reading a great book and can't wait for me to read it. That's how I heard about Gilead.

I write on a 19th-century oak table, in front of a window overlooking a wisteria-covered arbor.... [W]hen I wrote The Glass Castle, I wrote it entirely on the weekends, getting to my desk by 7:30 or 8:00 a.m. and continuing until 6:00 or 7:00 p.m. I wrote the first draft in about six weeks—but then I spent three or four years rewriting it. My husband, John Taylor, who is also a writer, observed all this approvingly and quoted John Fowles, who said that a book should be like a child: conceived in passion and reared with care.
I've been a journalist for almost 20 years and wrote one nonfiction book about the history of the tabloid press. But writing The Glass Castle was an entirely different experience. I was writing about myself and about intensely personal—and potentially embarrassing—experiences. Over the last 25 years, I wrote several versions of this memoir—sometimes pounding out 220 pages in a single weekend—but I always threw out the pages. Once I tried to fictionalize it, but that didn't work either. It took me this long to figure out how to tell the story. (From a 2005 Barnes & Noble interview.)



Book Reviews
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.... 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.
Publishers Weekly


Memoirist Walls...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.... [Their uncle] Tinsley gives the girls the security they have missed. .... 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.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
1. It takes a certain amount of courage for two young girls to make their way cross country without their mother. Why are Liz and Bean able to take on such a journey?

2. Discuss Bean and Liz’s mother. What do her disappearances say about her ability to raise her children? Do you feel any sympathy for her and her need to leave Byler in the first place, and then leave it again to go to New York? Consider her fake boyfriend, her Hotel Madison breakdown, but also her quick return to Byler upon hearing of Liz and Bean’s trouble.

3. At the Byler Independence Day parade, Bean says, “Mom…had been telling us for years about everything wrong with America—the war, the pollution, the discrimination, the violence—but here were all these people, including Uncle Clarence, showing real pride in the flag and the country. Who was right?” (pg 86). This idea of opposing cultural viewpoints comes up numerous times during the girls’ stay in Virginia. How do Liz and Bean’s views differ from the more provincial townsfolk of Byler? Do the sisters stop seeing eye to eye? Is there a “right” way to look at things, or is much of opinion and belief based on context?

4. Can we trust Bean’s assessment of Jerry Maddox? Is there some truth to Maddox’s later accusation that Liz and Bean are wont to make up fantasies in a big game of “What’s Their Story?”

5. A number of adults advise Bean against seeing a lawyer after Maddox assaults Liz. What does this say about the adults of Byler? Are there ever grounds to let injustice stand? Would Liz and Bean have been better off forgetting the ordeal, or were they right to challenge Maddox’s abuse of power?

6. Discuss the Wyatt family and their involvement in the Holladays’ lives. What do Aunt Al, cousins Joe and Ruth, and Uncle Clarence offer Bean that she might not otherwise have? Consider especially Bean and Joe’s tire outing, as well as Clarence’s handling of Maddox’s demands at the house.

7. After Bean’s English class reads To Kill a Mockingbird, she notes, “For all of Miss Jarvis’s singing its praises as great literature, a lot of the kids in the class had real problems with the book…” (pg. 151). How do the students’ reactions reflect the racial tensions in Byler?

8. What changes do you see in Bean over the course of the story? Does she take Liz’s place as the strong, centered Holladay sister?

9. After Maddox is cleared of all charges, Bean says, “I felt completely confused, like the world had turned upside down, and we were living in a place where the guilty were innocent and the innocent were guilty. How are you supposed to behave in a world like that?” (pg 229). What do you think Bean and Liz learned about the adult world from the trial? How does one behave in a place where terrible things are allowed to happen without reprisal?

10. What do you think the emus represent for Liz?

11. When Bean starts waving at strangers, Liz notes, “You’ve gone native.” (pg 60). Have the girls become true Byler residents by the end of the novel? Is there still a bit of California in them? Or a bit of their mother?

12. Is there justice in the way Maddox is ultimately dealt with?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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