Monday, July 6, 2015
MMGM: Stella by Starlight
I hope you all had a happy Fourth! And Happy Canada Day to my Canadian readers!
I’m sure I first heard about Stella by Starlight on a Monday Middle grade blog, but I heard it praised on so many, that I can’t even remember where I first heard of it. Nevertheless, I knew I had to read this book, not only because it’s about racism in the 1930s, but also because it’s by one of my favorite authors, Sharon M. Draper.
Stella is much different than Draper’s last book, Out of My Mind, which I reviewed here, but equally amazing in its own right.
Here is the synopsis:
When the Ku Klux Klan’s unwelcome reappearance rattles Stella’s segregated southern town, bravery battles prejudice in this Depression-era tour de force from Sharon Draper, the New York Times bestselling author of Out of My Mind.
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.
What I loved about this book:
1. A thoughtful pace: While it doesn’t have as fast of a pace as a lot of middle grade books, I thought its slower, somewhat meandering pace, really fit the story and time period. Don’t look for every character and interaction to have a purpose to the main plot. This book has lots of texture instead.
2. Stella is an insecure writer. There are a lot of protagonists who are aspiring writers in kidlit, but Stella is the first one I’ve met who struggles with writing and practices, because she thinks she’s no good at it. Of course, she doesn’t see the whole picture. As her dad says to her: “Bad writers don’t practice, Stella. It’s the good ones who care enough to try, who worry about getting the words just right.”
3. Stella’s writing is interspersed throughout the text. This was an interesting format choice: Stella’s writings and school essays form chapters or parts of chapters. I thought it worked well. I enjoyed how Stella crossed out her mistakes as she went along.
4. A well-developed antagonist: Although the antagonist never gets off the hook, through his daughter we see why he is the way he is. I think understanding his motives and character really helps to drive home the point that not all whites were racists, and that the doctor had a meanness to him that affected every area of his life.
5. Braveness and grace in the face of adversity. This book left me with a lot of hope. Both Stella and her father acted heroically in the face of racism, never sinking to the level of the evil around them.
While I was reading Stella by Starlight, I was reminded of ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY, which was also about a girl coming to terms with racism in the 1930s. While I love both books, Stella would be more appropriate for sensitive readers. It has less violence and a more hopeful ending.
As a writer, one thing I found interesting in the author’s note was that Sharon thanked God for helping her through a period of “wordlessness” just prior to writing this book, which goes to show that sometimes the best writing can come out of periods of dryness.
Have you read any good historical fiction lately?
If you're looking for Marvelous Middle Grade suggestions, check out Shannon Messenger's blog.