Dear reader, life is too short for crap books.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Home-Spun and Foursquare: The Blue Star by Tony Earley

The Blue Star by Tony Earley

Those who like Tony Earley have praised his wholesome, sincere, simple prose, while those who don't dismiss his writing for those same qualities. I think his book have been perhaps over-praised, which is not to say I don't think they're good.

Earley's first novel, Jim the Boy (2000), tells the story of a ten-year-old boy raised by his mother and bachelor uncles in a small North Carolina town during the Great Depression. In The Blue Star, it's 1941, and Jim is a high school senior who's fallen hopelessly in love with a half-Cherokee girl named Chrissie Steppe.

However, Jim can't really enjoy simple things like being BMOC or being in love, because bigger troubles loom on the horizon. With the nation on the brink of war, boys from his class are enlisting, and Jim is torn about that decision. To add to his troubles, Chrissie already has a boyfriend. Bucky Bucklaw is one of Aliceville's favored sons: he comes from a wealthy, respected family, and he's serving his country aboard the USS California. However, Jim can't stand Bucky for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with Bucky's girlfriend. Add Chrissie to the mix, and Jim's dislike boils into pure hatred, a feeling that our good-hearted protagonist has a hard time stomaching.

The book takes a few chapters to get going. Earley has described the Jim books as "children's stories for adults"; however, at first, The Blue Star is too slow-moving to appeal to teen readers, and covers territory too well-worn to engage adults. But about halfway through, things become more complicated, and Jim is forced to confront issues that are somewhat above his maturity level. If the first half of the book nests Jim and his friends in the safety of small town teen life, the second half is about how adulthood is suddenly thrust upon them, and the decisions they make about the kinds of men and women they want to become.

If you liked...: Plainsong by Kent Haruf or Ferroll Sams's Porter Osbourne trilogy (Run With the Horsemen, The Whisper of the River, and When All the World Was Young), this book is for you.

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