Our parents tell us, "I want you to have more than I had growing up." However, children really desire unconditional love, acceptance and stability from their parents rather than things. In the opening pages of Jeannette Walls' novel, The Silver Star, she captures the essence of a child's understanding of his or her surroundings and marries that comprehension with hope.

The Silver Star

In the novel's opening scene, Bean (Jean's nickname), tells us how her sister Liz saved her life when their mother, Charlotte, forgot she had placed baby Bean in her car seat on the roof of the car. Charlotte's only concern was leaving Byler, Virginia in her rear view mirror. At the time of the incident, Bean was a few months old and Liz was only three. This would be the first of many instances of their mother's crazy behavior in this novel.

Parts of this story brought back so many fun memories of my own childhood, that I couldn't help but feel connected to Bean and Liz. I enjoyed the description of the girls watching to make sure the chicken pot pies didn't burn because "the timer on the toaster oven was broken. " Then, Bean and Liz ate them on the red Formica table.

Growing up in a large family didn't lend itself to eating a lot of prepared meals because my parents needed to stretch a dollar to feed six children and two adults. Therefore, it was always a treat to eat food that my mother didn't make. Also, my father wasn't a handy person so we always had a stove in which the timer or light inside didn't work correctly. My mother always said, "It presents a challenge to cooking but not one that can't be overcome." To this day, I am grateful for the sound advice from my mother.

Once you start this novel, you will soon realize that both Bean and Liz's thoughts, emotions and behaviors propel the story forward. In fact, Liz's emotional maturity and shrewdness can be seen when she and Bean take the bus to their Uncle Tinsley's house in Byler, Virginia.

Bean likes to watch people while on the bus but catches the eye of a man who won't leave them alone. Liz recognizes a "total perv,"  then proceeds to stop him from following them by getting off the bus then catching a trolley and then finally boarding so quickly the "doors closed before the Perv could get his hand in. The other passengers all started hooting and cheering, pointing and clapping...As we pulled away, we could see the Perv through the window. He actually stomped his foot."

Jeannette Walls
John Taylor

Gradually, as Bean and Liz acclimate to living with their Uncle Tinsley, Bean realizes life in this small town isn't as bad as her mother originally told them. Bean meets her relatives for the first time and comes to rely upon their strength and wisdom to find her true north.

Bean's reaction to her mother's idea to "drive around visiting trees, communing with their spirits" is the last straw. Bean states,"Every time we run into a problem we just leave. But we always run into a new problem in the new place, and then we have to leave there too. We're always just leaving. Can't we for once just stay somewhere and solve the problem?" Charlotte sees things so differently than Bean.

It is at this point Bean realizes her mother has been running from her problems her whole life. You can't ask someone to guide you when they have no clear understanding of where they are going themselves. The Silver Star deftly navigates the realities of growing up with a parent who has no real direction in life. The novel's intrinsic beauty comes from the lesson that the children in this book learn early, that even ugly truths don't have to stymie a person's growth into a well-rounded, independent, successful adult.

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