Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Wendy Mass made me cry, almost: Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass

In Iceland, faires live inside of rocks.
Opening to
Every Soul a Star
by Wendy Mass
I didn't think she had it in her.

Wendy Mass's first novel for young adults, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life is a decent book.  I enjoyed it, so did my students, though more than a few found the ending a bit neat.  I think we'd all agree that it's a B+ book, a seven or an eight on a scale of ten.

Good enough for me to get a set of her new book, Every Soul a Star at last year's book fair.  Turns out, Every Soul a Star is pretty terrific; probably a nine, maybe even a ten.  I won't hear what the kids think of it until book clubs meet again a week from Friday, but I'm betting at least half of them rate the book highly.

They'll probably even say they like Bree now.

Bree is one of three characters who share the narration of Every Soul a Star.  Bree is the most popular girl in her eighth grade class. She wears all the right clothes, the right make-up, the right perfumes.  Everybody knows who she is and recognizes that she will someday become a super-model.  When her parents tell her that they'll be moving to start new jobs running a campground in the middle of no where at the end of the week, Bree is dumbfounded.  "If I'm so beautiful but no one sees me, am I still beautiful?"  It will be easy for most readers to hate Bree at first.  Even adult readers are sure to hate her by the end of page 185 when she sees an older woman dancing in the middle of the labyrinth at Camp Moon Shadow:

I watch her move through the circles and it looks almost like a dance.  When she gets in the middle she actually does start doing a little dance. She must not care at all what people think of her. If I'm dancing alone in the middle of a labyrinth sixty years from now, something in my life will have gone horribly, horribly wrong.

Ally is Bree's opposite. Ally has lived most of her life in the isolated campground her parents run.  When she gets the news that her family will be leaving for Chicago as soon as Bree's family arrives to take over, Ally is devastated.  Everything she loves is in Camp Moon Shadow.  The big city has nothing to offer her but a lot of people her own age whom she has nothing in common with.  Homeschooling with her younger brother, life  in the wilderness with her parents, the annual guests at the campground are all Ally knows and all she's ever wanted to know.

Jack rounds out the narrative triangle.  Jack is coming to Camp Moon Shadow as his science teacher's assistant.  His teacher leads astrology tour groups during summer break.  This one has come from all over the world to see a total eclipse of the sun expected to last almost four minutes for those lucky enough to get a campsite or a cabin at Camp Moon Shadow.  Jack is a wall flower back home, the kid who sits quietly in the back row drawing pictures of aliens when he should be taking notes.  This trip is the only way he can avoid summer school and make-up the failing grade he earned in science.  His mother hopes the trip will help him become more socially out-going.

Now you know enough to guess the plot. Wendy Mass doesn't break any new ground as far as summer camp stories go.  She even makes a reference to the classic summer-camp-movie The Parent Trap, but there are no wise children in Every Soul a Star.  

Which is something I liked about it.  While the book is about the kids, it is YA lit after all, the adults in the novel really do know best.  They are the adults.  Not perfect, but capable of raising children.  I liked reading a YA book about three kids who all have very good families.  Jack is odd man out in that he is being raised by a single mother and a series of step fathers, but even his step fathers are all decent guys.  The dad who ran out on him when he was a baby is an unknown.

What else I liked about the book was how exciting the eclipse was.  I enjoyed how much science played a role in the lives of all three children, though only one of them wanted it to play a role.  In the days leading up to the eclipse, they become involved in a study to observe a particular star to see if there is a planet in its orbit.  This is really a basic summer camp plot line, I guess, but that it had so much to do with real science impressed me.  How cool would it be to discover a planet while you're at summer camp.

Of the three, only Ally is genuinely interested in the eclipse when the novel begins.  This strikes me as true.  Most eighth would pick a trip to the mall with their friends over a camp ground in the middle of no-where with their family or a science teacher to see an eclipse.  But by the novel's end, all three of the kids, and this reader, were excited and then amazed by the eclipse.  I think all four of us will continue looking for chances to see them.

The eclipse made for exciting reading.  Ally, Jack and Bree all three narrate their version of the event. There is some drama over whether or not they'll all be able to see it when it finally happens. Then there are three accounts of the event each with a moment where they all end up together in the dark in the middle of the day looking at the sky when someone takes hold of Ally's hand.

And I teared up.

Go ahead.  Judge me.

Jack puts it best:

So we stand there, part of a crowd of a thousand people strong, beaming up at the sky with wonder. I know with a sudden certainty that wherever I am in the future -- up in my tree house, alone in the school cafeteria, or trying to figure out what my teachers are talking about, a part of me will always be right here, right now, with that giant eye int he sky shining down on me, telling me it's going to be all right.


Jenners said...

No shame in tearing up. It sounds marvelous. And I always think that a good author can take a standard plot line and make it into something special.

Sam Sattler said...

Man, I love your job of getting kids to read. I know it has its tedious side and all, but never forget how important what you are doing really is. Very cool.

Jim Randolph said...

I bookmarked this forever ago but forgot to ask. How did the kids like it? I loved this book and would love to do it with kids.

James Chester said...

The kids all liked the book. A few of them LOVED it. So far, only all girl book clubs have read it, but the two groups that did, all liked the book.