Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller
Published: September 24, 2013, Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Source: eARC from publisher via Netgalley
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I want traditions. Eggnog. Peace on earth, goodwill toward man. I want to kiss Alex Kosta under the mistletoe. I want memories untarnished by ugliness. I want all of that without feeling guilty about wanting it. And I want my mom to get help—although peace on earth is probably a more realistic goal.
Callie has spent her life on the run with her mother. After her parents divorced when she was five, Callie's mother kidnapped her, and, over ten years later, Callie has grown used to a life on the road. With each stop comes a new identity for them, perhaps a new man for her mother. But no friends, no education, no consistency.
And then her mother gets arrested one night and Callie finds herself being flown across the country to live with her father and his family in Tarpon Springs, Florida. Callie learns that her name is actually Callista, that she's part of a large and loving Greek family, and that her father has never stopped searching for his missing little girl. Callie's new life may seem idyllic, but the transition is anything but easy as she comes to terms with what she wants, what she deserves, and what is best for her.
It's a commonly accepted idea that people are defined by their relationships. Who we choose to spend time with, tell our secrets to, and love, reveals much about who we are. Trish Doller seems to adhere to this belief, as I found Where the Stars Still Shine to be a character study of Callie driven primarily by the relationships she forges. At the beginning of the novel, it was Callie and her mother against the world. As Callie comes to realize that the truth is much more complicated than that, so, too, do her feelings for her mother become more complicated. Is her mother loving-but-concerned or vindictive-and-crazy? And is there even a middle ground between those two possibilities? Callie struggles convincingly with those questions and how they affect her past and future.
Her mother may form the only significant relationship of Callie's past, but there to compete for a place in her present are her father, his new family, her cousin Kat, and attractive sponge diver Alex Kosta. I think the scenes between Callie are her father are some of the most powerful, as they both come to realize that the reality of their relationship is different than they expected and will require more than a little work to make right. By the book's conclusion, I still felt as though any resolution between the two of them remained elusive, at best. Is that realistic? Of course. But that doesn't mean that I wished for a little something more during the course of the novel.
I also enjoyed the gradual, hesitant friendship that Callie forms with her second-cousin Kat, as well as all the glimpses that the reader (and Callie) get of what life is like for those who belong to a large, supportive Greek family. Without a drop of Greek blood in my veins myself, I found Doller's portrayal of Greek culture and family to be very interesting. I cannot speak to the authenticity of it all, however.
Romance has a pretty significant role in this book, but for the most part I didn't mind it. Callie and Alex's relationship is not the quintessential teen epic love saga, nor can it quite be described as a summer fling. Both characters have their fair share of flaws and difficulties, and they don't always bring out the best in each other. But what they do bring out in each other is another step towards healing and self-acceptance on both sides. And with that said, I appreciated how and when Doller chose to end the novel. Not everything is tidily resolved, but neither should it be. Callie's going to carry emotional scars for the rest of her life, but at least readers can rest assured that she's strong enough to get better.
My main complaint is in the book's lack of treatment for emotional and mental trauma. Callie has some issues adjusting to her new life, and her family has some issues adjusting to her presence. I understand that her dad wanted to do whatever possible to ease her transition into her new life, but I do not understand why there were no mentions of therapy or just anything that would help her adjust to her life. I mean, none of the characters in Tarpon Springs has any idea of what Callie has endured. I get waiting for her to come to them and explain, I do. But, I just feel like in this sort of instance, there should have been some sort of specialist involved. And another slight issue I had related to the fact that Callie hasn't been to school in years, and yet she's incredibly well-read. Sure, people can teach themselves to read to some degree, but the degree to which she taught herself rang a bit false in my mind.
Really, though, the positive aspects of this book far outweigh the issues I had with it. Where the Stars Still Shine portrays the very beginning of a teen girl's journey toward normalcy, which I appreciated very much. Doller convincingly explores what happens to people when it seems as though their problems are solved. Callie has left her abusive (emotionally, at least) and unreliable mother for a stable life with a loving family. But that doesn't mean that everything is now easy for her, nor should it. Strong, believable characterizations are particularly where this novel shines. If her future novels are anything like this one, I definitely see myself reading more of Doller's work.
Rating: 4 stars
Disclaimers: I received this review copy from the publisher, but that in no way affected my opinion. The quote is from an advanced copy of the novel and is subject to change in the finished copy.