Release Date: September 24, 2013
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
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.
Trish Doller writes incredibly real teens, and this searing story of love, betrayal, and how not to lose your mind will resonate with readers who want their stories gritty and utterly true.
Trish Doller wrote an excellent post on feminism in YA recently; that post was actually the reason that I wanted to read this.
Where the Stars Still Shine was an evocative and comforting read. In addition to the touching romance, the tightly woven Greek culture and emotional backstories to each character kept me unable to put it down.
Callie had been on the run with her mother for years – all she really remembers was that her mother kidnapped her from her father in Florida when she was little. Throughout her mother’s various boyfriends, the random moves, the vending machine dinners, she loved her mother. One night, they get pulled over and that’s where it all changed. Her mother was locked away and Callie got a new start with her father in Florida.
Despite the shiny new life, Callie is still dredging up memories and questions, anger and longing. Why did her mother ruin Callie’s life like that? How was she supposed to fit in with her Greek family that she doesn’t even know? What if she turned out exactly like her mother? And even worse, questions about the boy at the sponge docks. Questions about why the beginning of her life went the way it did, and whether there was any way to get any of it back.
I was actually supposed to be studying for AP World History while reading this. I had a system: I’d reward myself with a chapter for every twenty minutes of studying but that soon crashed because I couldn’t keep myself from reading. One chapter turned into five and soon I looked up, having finished the book.
Callie was a lovely character. She was raised a different way than most of the people she was around and so she had a few little personality quirks that showed through – some edged with stubbornness and sadness but others that made her purely interesting. She could be outright rude and unlikable sometimes. She was used to being on the run and unsure what to do when she was brought back into a real “home”. From her first few awkward encounters with her family and uncertainty of how she was supposed to feel towards them. Something from her childhood still affected her so much to the point where she woke up crying or convinced that it was going to happen again. But despite all that, she was trying and she was learning: she changed and she took the beautiful parts of her personality and worked with them. She was still trying to figure out where home was to her and what she was supposed to do now that she was actually settled down in one place.
Despite the way Callie shone as a character, I thought her mother was the most well-written character of the novel. She scared me a little, to be honest. She was a little off and was completely drastic in everything she did. She was selfish and bitter and paranoid, but on the other hand, she cared so fiercely about Callie. You could really tell that she loved her daughter – in her own twisted way – but her ways of showing it were wrong and completely missed the fact that she was hurting her. Every scene with her mother in it hit me hard.
The book itself reminded me of a softer Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott. While Alice was cynical and bitter, Callie was hopeful but realistic. She wouldn’t let herself believe that anything would get better because that wasn’t how her life worked, but she still wanted everything to work out in the end. There was a dark underbelly to her new life – she didn’t know her family, she had a worrying relationship with a boy whose mother was dying, her own mother clung to her life and shredded it when she wasn’t looking – but she still cared about things like boys and family and fitting in when she didn’t know how to.
In addition to the context, I saw another parallel to Living Dead Girl because of the sexuality. To put it lightly, this book does deal with a lot of that. Callie uses sex as a means of escape but it doesn’t define her at all – it rebuilt some relationships and destroyed others. The way she talks about her past encounters was almost cavalier. She built relationships in the reverse way than we tend to see in YA: hooked up and then waited to see if something more would happen. Just because that was what she was used to. It was an interesting part of the book and definitely something that sets this one apart.
The best part of this book, hands down: the relationships. Her father, her cousin, her grandma, Alex. Each relationship was different and poignant. Callie never had to worry about having a relationship with anybody other than her mom, and even then she never knew if she was screwing up or not. Callie made mistakes and lashed out; she could be self-destructive and naive at times because of her no-boundaries childhood. But despite that, her tentative exploration into building relationships was awkward, lovable, and a little shy. I loved it.
I really really loved her relationship with Alex. It started out as a hookup and turned into something more. It was tangible, a little raw; they were both damaged and slowly learned how to trust each other again. They have differing interests and they chafed at times. But overall, it was realistic and sweet and not-so-sweet at times which came off really well. Their relationship was actually beautiful.
Alex was damaged but not in that annoying bad-boy way that a lot of YA tends to present. He had family problems and a mixture of his own dreams and obligations keeping him stifled at the sponge docks. He was endearing; thoughtful to Callie and screwed up, but overall he was a great guy. I loved the character development between him and Callie; they’re such different people at the end of the book than they were at the beginning and that was something Trish Doller executed flawlessly. Their relationship wasn’t even remotely perfect but it worked.
I was surprised by how realistic it was. Despite the outlandish beginning plot, there are little details sprinkled throughout the narrative that just spoke to me. Trish Doller has such a great grasp on how teens think and what happens nowadays; too often there’s a divide in what happens in YA vs. what happens in real life. There’s a difference between “realistic for YA” and “realistic for real life”. But Trish Doller straddled that perfectly – I really felt like I could have known Callie. Had it really happened, I wouldn’t have doubted the entire story for a second. The little details just made the book so good for me.
It was really fun for me to read about places that I knew. First off, the book mentions my hometown at one point and a beach that I’ve visited. I would have fallen in the book if it had taken place anywhere but it being Floridian was an extra bonus for me.
The writing was solid, the characters were memorable, the romance was sensitive and sizzling. It was realistic and also dramatic, delving into fun parts of Greek culture and interesting concepts that we don’t often think about. I adored Callie and the hesitation she had in entering a new world. I adored the ending and the screw-ups and mistakes that the characters all made. It was powerful, not cloying. It was fresh, somber, hopeful. If you’re looking for a quick, memorable read, I highly recommend Where the Stars Still Shine.
Recommended for anybody who loves: Living Dead Girl; Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour; The Sky is Everywhere; Saving June; The Infinite Moment of Us; The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight; This Song Will Save Your Life; etc,.