Friday, June 06, 2008

The Life History of a Star

Set in 1973, The Life History of a Star is the novelized diary of Kristin Folger, written from eighth grade up through the middle of high school. She lives in the era of Nixon and in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Her family is strained and near falling apart due to the “ghost” upstairs. The reader suspects almost from first mention that this isn’t a supernatural entity but a member of the household to whom something terrible has happened. Sure enough, it turns out the “ghost” is her shell-shocked and terribly injured older brother, David. David, once the golden boy of the family, the sibling to whom Kristin was closest, and the guy who seemed to have the whole world in front of him, has been obliterated by the war. As Kristin says, he died in Vietnam even if he came back breathing. She has lost her favorite brother, a person she could sorely use as she goes kicking and screaming into adolescence. She’s left with two parents who love one another but seem to be falling apart, a second older brother with a guilt complex, and a friend whose obsession with her new boyfriend is eclipsing everything else.

Kristin is a tomboy with little interest in clothes or boys, a fact which drives her mother crazy. Her best friend, Simon, a quasi-intellectual, keeps trying to talk Kristin into a romantic fling, making spurious intellectual arguments for the union. Kristin, who’s pretty smart herself (and getting into trouble at school as a result,) isn’t biting. She’s just trying to keep her life from spiraling any further out of control.

This book was beautifully written. There is much humor here, despite the tragic premise of the book. Something about the narrator’s voice reminds me of the main character from Speak. I wonder if teen readers will get all of the 70s references (Nixon, Patty Hearst, etc.) I’m not sure I got all the references. So, will modern readers find anything identifiable in a character who came of age in the 70s? I think they will. The character is so well-written and her problems, which range from the issue of the damaged older brother to being set up on blind dates by well-meaning friends, were so easy to relate to, that I think readers will really enjoy this book. I tended to forget that it was set 35 years in the past until a detail about Vietnam or Nixon suddenly reminded me.

This was Kelly Easton’s first book, and I am very impressed. It came out a few years ago and I missed it, but I am glad I found it now. Some parts are so beautifully written that I wish it had come out this year so it could be a contender for the Printz Award. Kelly Easton has written several other novels as well.

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