Title: Stella by Starlight
Author: Sharon Draper
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Review Copy: ARC from Publisher
Availability: In Bookstores now
Summary: When the Ku Klux Klan’s unwelcome reappearance rattles Stella’s segregated southern town, bravery battles prejudice in this Depression-era tour de force from Sharon Draper, the New York Times bestselling author of Out of My Mind.
Stella lives in the segregated South; in Bumblebee, North Carolina, to be exact about it. Some stores she can go into. Some stores she can’t. Some folks are right pleasant. Others are a lot less so. To Stella, it sort of evens out, and heck, the Klan hasn’t bothered them for years. But one late night, later than she should ever be up, much less wandering around outside, Stella and her little brother see something they’re never supposed to see, something that is the first flicker of change to come, unwelcome change by any stretch of the imagination. As Stella’s community – her world – is upended, she decides to fight fire with fire. And she learns that ashes don’t necessarily signify an end. (Image & summary via Goodreads)
Review: As a huge fan of Sharon Draper’s young adult novels, I was excited to read her newest Stella by Starlight. I didn’t realize at the time it was a middle grade novel, until I started reading it, but because the story draws you in and Stella is such a wonderful character, I enjoyed the novel immensely. In fact, my 12 year old self emerged and was giddy at a book that spoke to her – especially a story about a young girl finding her voice through writing.
The novel takes place in the South in 1932, so you know it’s not going to be an easy read. Stella is a 12 year old girl who is loved by both of her parents, has a good relationship with her little brother, wonderful friends, and lives in a tight knit African American community. What could go wrong? Well, the Klan shows up one night and sets the entire community on edge. The issue is that there is a presidential election coming and, of course, the Klan does not want the African American members of their community to vote, so they use the usual scare tactics, which thankfully, do not work. I loved the way Draper showed how small African-American communities came together during crisis, helping each other out when they often didn’t have very much to give. She also balanced this out by showing that not all of the members of the White community agreed with the Klan’s tactics, and were willing to make a stand. While the heart of the novel is very much on Stella and her perspective on life, the scenes that focused on social justice, way back in 1932, clearly showing the seeds for the Civil Rights movement and our current #Black Lives Matter movement, were moving.
Stella is the star of the novel and her voice is truly one of a young girl on the edge of womanhood who is actively thinking about the world around here. One aspect of Stella’s character that I really related to was her emerging status as a writer. At the beginning of the book, she struggled with writing (even though she liked to) because she often couldn’t find the words to say. She would sneak out of the house in the middle of the night and write underneath the stars. I so related to her as I would write underneath the covers with a flashlight. Her writing eventually becomes stronger as she practices and then when she receives a typewriter as a gift, she starts her own newspaper, readership of one (that was also me at age 10!). The little girl K. Imani instantly fell in love with Stella as I remembered some of the struggles I had finding my voice, but with the encouragement of teachers, like Stella, I grew into the writer I am today. I also appreciated that Draper doesn’t make Stella a super duper writer right away and actually has her experience rejection in the form of not being picked for a writing contest. The disappointment Stella felt allowed for a true growth moment where she recognized her writing was not as strong as it could be and that the only way for her to get better was to practice. A message writers of all ages need to be reminded of.
One of my favorite childhood books of all time is Mildred Taylor’s “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” and I feel that Draper’s novel is written in the spirit of that novel. All these years later I still love that novel, and Stella by Starlight brought those same emotions forth. Stella’s story is a fitting compliment to Taylor’s classic novel, but yet is perfect for our current children who need to understand how the Americans fought for equality in the past, just as they fight for it now.
Recommendation: Get It Now!