The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls
Published by: Scribner
Published on: June 11, 2013
Page Count: 269
My Reading Format: Audiobook sent to me as part of Audiobook Jukebox’s Solid Gold Reviewer program
Audiobook Published by: Simon & Schuster Audio
Narrator: Jeannette Walls
Audiobook Length: 7 hours 48 minutes
Available Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, and Audiobook
Summary from the Publisher:
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 But when school starts in the fall, it’s Bean who easily adjusts and makes friends, and Liz who becomes increasingly withdrawn.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.
Liz and her little sister Bean travel alone in the early 1970s from California to rural Southwest Virginia in The Silver Star. They have often been left by their single mother to fend for themselves with not much more than enough chicken pot pies. Liz has taken on the role of mother and protector at an early age, but is not resentful. In no small part to the love and care of her older sister, Bean is a girl with a strong sense of herself. Despite her less than optimal family life, she believes she and her sister deserve what is fair and she is loathe to accept anything less. They arrive in a Virginia that is just seeing its schools fully integrate and there is discontent and injustice all around her. It isn’t until she and Liz come face to face with the realities of the justice system in a small Southern town that Bean learns how much the truth costs and how easily it can be twisted into something ugly.
I very much enjoyed the story Jeannette Walls tells in The Silver Star. I was fully invested in Liz and Bean and the supporting characters fleshed out the small town in Virginia that drove their mother away and compelled their Uncle Tinsley to stay. The story is reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird and I understand and appreciate the criticism the book has received as a result. For me, it is Walls’ perspective on childhood and her consistent ability to bring settings to life that made this novel such a great read for me. While nothing surprised me, I could not stop reading as the story of Liz and Bean’s life in Virginia unfolded.
It’s always a bit of a crap shoot when you choose to listen to an audiobook narrated by the author. I was curious about the sound of Jeannette Walls’ voice, so I decided to give The Silver Star a shot in audio. Her narration is adequate. I like the sound of her voice and I would enjoy having a conversation with her. However, her pacing and tone are not consistent throughout and there are few discernible voices in a book full of interesting characters. This did not prevent me from enjoying this novel. I loved it in fact. I wouldn’t have given her narration a second thought had this been her memoir. For fiction I expect more. This story had all of the makings of a spectacular, chill bump-worthy listening experience. I am disappointed that I will never know what this audiobook could have been with the performance of a professional narrator.
The Silver Star is by far Walls’ best book since The Glass Castle. Bean and Liz captured my heart from the start. They are smart, resourceful, and devoted to each other. They made me glad to have sisters and I hope that they are the sisters my daughters will grow up to be to each other. While I’ve certainly experienced worse narration, I would not recommend this book in audio. I loved this story and I think it should be read without regret. Pick this up in print and enjoy.