The Glass Castle is that rare book that everyone loves. Either you were moved by the searing honesty with which the author described her childhood, or you were astounded that anyone survived such a childhood and walked away more or less normal. The Glass Castle is a book beloved by book clubs, and a bestseller all over the place.
It’s hard to compete with that kind of success. I thought her follow up, Half-Broke Horses did an admirable job. It was completely different but there were similar themes and I remember finishing the book and thinking that Jeanette Walls’ grandmother was one kickass lady.
Which brings us to The Silver Star, Walls’ foray into fiction. It tells the story of sisters Liz and Bean who, more or less abandoned by their mother in 1970 California, hop onto a bus to Virginia to stay with their mother’s estranged brother in the family home. At first their uncle is taken aback by their arrival; the last time he saw 12 year old Bean she was only a few months old. But he gradually gets used to their presence and they form an easy co-existence.
Life in this small southern mill town is very different to what they’re used to. Heading into the school year everyone is talking about integration; this will be the first time that the black kids go to the same school as the white kids. There are still massive class differences; when Bean and Liz tell their uncle they want to get jobs he tells them that their family doesn’t work for others, others work for their family.
But everything is working out; Bean manages to connect with her dead dad’s family, school is going alright and both Liz and Bean have found a job with the mill manager when something bad happens to Liz.
I enjoyed this book. I liked the characters and the description of life in this small town. But when the whole integration thing gets started I couldn’t help but think that I was reading Remember the Titans and if only the cheerful outsider started singing Motown songs in the locker room, everything would be OK.
The book also talks about To Kill A Mockingbird quite a bit and when the bad thing happens to Liz…well the parallels hit you over the head. I didn’t need the invocation of the classic novel to get where this was all going. And then the story is kind of wrapped up but we’re still going and these emus arrive on the scene and…it lost me.
No redeeming ending. I wanted to know how things turned out for Bean and Liz and their mother and Bean’s cousins. I didn’t get the closure or the perfect ending and the second half of it was kind of muddled for me.
Have you read this one? What did you think?