Monday, August 22, 2016

Stella By Starlight: Love Wins

Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper

Published 2015 by Atheneum

320 pages, historical fiction/MG.

A beautiful book.

Set in 1932, the year my dad was born.  I was confused by this at first, thinking it was about Draper's grandmother, which didn't make sense chronologically to me, since I think she's a bit older than I am.  I finally worked out that it's fictionalized and combines her grandmother's story with her dad's.

This book deals with some really heavy topics.  There are some terrifying moments, and some sharply painful ones.  I wish the historical injustices could be seen from a distance, but they echo all too sharply today's world.  But if I were to sum up the book in a word, that word would be Love.  Stella's family and community don't have much, but they are wealthy in love.

Stella's writing attempts are sprinkled throughout the book.  At first I didn't really see the point in them, other than to possibly point out that Stella is a better writer than she thinks herself to be.  But as the book continues, you see her cross-outs change from fixing spelling mistakes to choosing more precise words, and her thoughts and topics go deeper and deeper as she matures.

The only reason I didn't give five stars is because, like all MG novels, it feels just a tad pat.  Oh, there's no false resolution made up for the Klan, and you know Stella's life won't be no crystal stair, but nothing irreplaceable is lost.  There aren't many shades of gray.  Characters are Good or Evil.  Stella embraces chores as a way to help her parents.  Her teacher always knows just what to say to her students.  The KKK leader, on the other hand, is also a wife beater.  I find this a little problematic, because it is possible to be a complete asshole without being overtly racist, and it's possible (due to upbringing) to be a generally affable person but also a racist idiot.  Demonizing the racists makes it easy for us nice white liberals to let ourselves off the hook.  A more nuanced look might let one of the black characters be a wife beater, and address more directly the white townsfolk who didn't support the KKK but didn't do anything about it other than show up after the fact with used clothing to donate to the displaced.

Then again, the more subtle issues don't need to be tackled in a MG novel.  There is already a lot going on here, and Draper handles it all beautifully.  I listened to the first half of the book on audio, and it made me think I probably shouldn't read the book aloud to my classes, because the narrator captured voices and accents far better than I could hope to.  I only switched to print because I was enjoying the book so much that I wanted find out what was going to happen faster!

4.5/5 stars

from Goodreads:
Stella lives in the segregated South; in Bumblebee, North Carolina, to be exact about it. Some stores she can go into. Some stores she can't. Some folks are right pleasant. Others are a lot less so. To Stella, it sort of evens out, and heck, the Klan hasn't bothered them for years. But one late night, later than she should ever be up, much less wandering around outside, Stella and her little brother see something they're never supposed to see, something that is the first flicker of change to come, unwelcome change by any stretch of the imagination. As Stella's community - her world - is upended, she decides to fight fire with fire. And she learns that ashes don't necessarily signify an end.


  1. I’ve never heard of this book, but I love the cover. The story sounds pretty interesting, too. I often struggle with middlegrade books because everything is wrapped up too neatly at the end. Even when I was a kid, I hated too-perfect endings.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

    1. Isn't that a great cover?

      It does deal with racism and the KKK in the south in the 30s, so not EVERYTHING gets wrapped up neatly. It's about perseverance as much as anything. I hear you about the middle grade book struggle. I think this one is worth it though.

  2. So loved this book, and I recommend it to the teachers I work with!

    1. Stella has such a great voice! And there's a lot to unpack if you read it carefully.


Please share your thoughts. Comments are almost as sweet as chocolate!