Author: Trish Doller
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's
Release date: September 24th 2013
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
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My rating: 4 out of 5 starsStolen 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.
I read most of Where the Stars Still Shine on the subway - which I would not recommend, because it's kind of a miracle I never missed my stop, considering immersed I was in this story. Trish Doller is amazing at writing incredibly absorbing novels with complex, unique character, and Where the Stars Still Shine is no exception.
The whole set-up of Where the Stars Still Shine is original and intriguing: it takes what some might consider to be a happy ending - a girl "rescued" after being kidnapped and kept away from her family for most of her life - and questions what happens after. What it must be like to return to a "normal" life after living on the run for so long and meeting your family whom you don't remember is such a fascinating idea.
The set-up makes for a main character who is incredibly fascinating to read about. I loved Callie; she is so different from any other YA character (or any character) I've read about. She doesn't know how to let people in or how to let someone care for her - doesn't know how to be a daughter to someone who cares, how to be a friend, or how to have a romantic relationship that isn't based on someone using her. I felt for Callie and grew to love her so much over the course of this novel. Callie must have been such a hard character to write, and even though of course I can't really judge, her struggles seemed very realistic. Even when her choices are frustrating, it totally works, and just adds to the depth of her character.
I absolutely loved the romance in Where the Stars Still Shine. Alex is older, an usual love interest for YA, which works perfectly for this story. He has his own issues, which are also intriguing, even if they're not explored in as much depth as Callie's. Callie and Alex have amazing chemistry, and an inspiringly respectful way of treating each other. But even though the swoon factor is strong, romance is definitely not the only important relationship in this novel. I also loved Callie's relationship with her cousin/self-assigned best friend Kat, her dad Greg, an the rest of her family. I loved how all of these relationships combined showed Callie that she is worthy of love and capable of having meaningful relationships. And then, of course, there's Callie's relationship with her mother, which isn't as easy to love, but just as well-done. Callie's ambivalent feelings towards her mother and her inner struggle are portrayed with honesty and raw emotion, and I especially loved how Callie's feelings develop over the course of the novel.
I thought for a while about whether I should talk about this or if it's too spoilery, but since Trish talks about this in promotional posts, I'm assuming it's okay to talk about the issue of sexual abuse in this novel. How this issue is treated is actually one of the most impressive things about this book, in my opinion. Callie's past experiences with sexual abuse and how it affects her life today is portrayed in heartbreaking honesty. I loved how Trish Doller discusses the impact of Callie's past experiences on her relationships today, since survivors of sexual assault or abuse (re-)gaining a healthy relationship to sex is something that isn't talked about much. It's interwoven in Callie's relationship with Alex in subtle and important ways. I also love how this plays into Callie's relationship with her mother. Even if it weren't such a great story all-around, this book would be worth reading just for its respectful and raw emotional portrayal of this issue.
The only issue I have with Where the Stars Still Shine is that the ending seems a little rushed and melodramatic, everything with Callie's mom and Alex coming crashing down at the same time. Specifically, I'm talking about a very Hollywood-y hospital scene that, in my opinion, is too melodramatic to discuss the story in the depth it deserves. The ending-ending - what comes after this scene - is good again, it's just in this climax that the novel loses some of its plausibility, for me.
With this book, Trish Doller has manifested her position as one of my favorite contemporary YA authors. With a unique story, lyrical writing, and characters I won't soon forget, Where the Stars Still Shine was a book whose world I didn't want to leave. I can't wait for even more Trish Doller books.