Author Jeannette Walls' earlier memoir The Glass Castle is a fascinating but heartbreaking account of the joys and struggles of her rootless and sometimes homeless childhood. She well knows what it is like to be the daughter of a dysfunctional mother, and her personal history gives authenticity to the two sisters who are the main characters in The Silver Star. Teenage Liz and tween "Bean" must fend for themselves when their single mother leaves to chase her dream of being a famous singer and to “make some time and space” for herself.
Set in the 1970s, the novel begins in California, but when parental abandonment threatens to bring the cops to their house, the girls and their pet turtle Fido hop a cross-country bus to Virginia to see their widowed Uncle Tinsley (Spoiler Alert: Fido should not have boarded that bus). Tinsley is taken aback by the visit from these sisters with whom he has had no relationship to date. He is taken aback further when he discovers that their mother is not with them and that they expect to stay with him for an unknown period of time.
Afraid that they might mess up the hoarded junk in his house, Tinsley has the girls sleep in the barn their first night. In no time, however, they move into the big old weather-beaten house, and (predictably) their uncle becomes a father figure to them.
As the girls adapt to life in their new town, their mother appears. But old habits die hard, and soon the struggling singer is off to try to make it big in New York City. Just like old times, she vanishes for weeks on end. But unlike old times, Bean, who was taken care of by Liz early on in the book, comes into her own and becomes the protector of her big sister when something bad happens to her. Essentially this is a coming of age story about children who learn to act more grown up than the grown-ups who surround them.
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