by Trish Doller
Published on September 24, 2013
by Bloomsbury Children's
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Source: e-ARC from the publisher via Netgalley. Please see my full FTC disclosure on right sidebar.
Summary from Goodreads: Stolen as a child from her large and loving family, and on the run with her mom for more than ten years, Callie has only the barest idea of what normal life might be like. She's never had a home, never gone to school, and has gotten most of her meals from laundromat vending machines. Her dreams are haunted by memories she’d like to forget completely. But when Callie’s mom is finally arrested for kidnapping her, and Callie’s real dad whisks her back to what would have been her life, in a small town in Florida, Callie must find a way to leave the past behind. She must learn to be part of a family. And she must believe that love--even with someone who seems an improbable choice--is more than just a possibility.My take: As a diehard contemporary/realistic fiction fan, sometimes I worry that this genre gets overshadowed by all the angst and drama and life or death stakes of all those paranormals and fantasies and dystopians. Then I read a book like Where the Stars Still Shine, and it reminds me of what's great about realistic, character-driven fiction: it captures all the beauty and sadness and messiness of life in a way that no other kind of story can manage.
Where the Stars Still Shine does have elements similar to other YA I've read, books like If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch, Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Schmidt and Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen that deal with parental abduction and/or life with an unfit parent, and then a character's attempt to adjust to a more "normal" life. And yet, while Callie's story does have some parallels to Carey's or Anna's or Ruby's, each girl's journey plays out differently.
The story opens as Callie, who's been living an itinerant life with her mother for over ten years, is discovered by the police and sent back to Tarpon Springs, Florida to live with her father. Everything about her new life -- rules and a house and a large family and a stable routine -- is completely foreign to her, and she's not sure she's on board with any of it. I loved that about this book. As in her debut book, Something Like Normal, Trish Doller has written a main character who feels completely real. Some fictional characters have a growth arc that seems to curve as perfectly as a rainbow. But real people mess up -- they backslide, they make choices that others can't understand, and they forget to learn from their mistakes. Callie was easy to relate to, and yet I never forgot that she'd never had any kind of a lasting relationship except with her mother, and that she'd lived through some really tough times.
Callie meets Alex as she's restlessly wandering on the esplanade one evening and they're instantly drawn to each other. This was insta-attraction, not insta-love -- neither of these two are interested in a relationship. Alex has family issues of his own and can't wait to leave Tarpon Springs and explore the world. But the two of them start meeting up in secret. While Where the Stars Still Shine is a YA book with YA themes, it does edge into NA territory, both due to the age of the characters (Callie is seventeen and Alex is twenty-one) and their sexual relationship, which is an important part of the story.
The characters and the setting in this book were standouts for me. Callie's father's family is part of a Greek-American community in Tarpon Springs. We meet Callie's yiayoula (grandmother) and her cousin Kat and learn about the local sponge industry. I also really loved the way Callie's mom was portrayed. She's deeply flawed, but also a woman who clearly loves her daughter even though she's failed her on multiple levels. Callie and her family have a lot of stuff to work out, and I loved that ending of the book was hopeful but didn't try to wrap everything up in a shiny bow.
Where the Start Still Shine was definitely a standout for me and I look forward to seeing what Trish Doller writes next! I'm interviewing Trish tomorrow -- be sure to come back and check that out!