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Staff Picks: “Where the Stars Still Shine” by Trish Doller

Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller is a story of loyalty and love, and readers looking for character-driven realistic fiction that gives equal focus to family and romance will enjoy it.

Callie’s unstable, mentally ill mother kidnapped her when she was young, and they have bounced between shabby apartments in towns all over ever since, and she’s struggled with poverty and surviving living with her mom’s string of not-so-great boyfriends. She’s never even gone to school.

All that changes when her mother is pulled over with a broken tail light and the police return her to her father. When Callie returns to her childhood home after years on the run with her mother, she struggles to navigate the unfamiliar terrain of loving, supporting family. After years of interactions with boys that make her feel empty and used, she doesn’t know what to made of a boy who makes her feel cherished and wants to give her pleasure, especially when her family would disapprove of the match.

Callie’s story is unusual and her dynamic with her parents was not typical, but I think that many readers will still relate to this story. Callie’s situation only intensified the issues many teens relate to with regards to their parents. Even if they don’t kidnap them and keep them out of school for the majority of their childhood, many parents are neglectful, especially due to mental illness. Callie struggles to maintain and respect her father’s rules because she’s used to having complete freedom to come and go as she pleases, just like lots of teens struggle with the degree of independence they have as they approach adulthood. I really appreciated how Doller managed to take these unique circumstances and portray them in a way that felt so universal to the teenage experience.

The characters are what make this book great. I really connected with Callie, even though she is not always likable. She often makes insensitive comments and doesn’t mince her words. Doller managed to realistically portray a character who was both naive and street-smart, which is no simple task. Alex is a charmer with some family issues of his own. He is struggling to keep his family’s sponge-diving business afloat and doesn’t want to acknowledge a family member’s failing health.

What so impressed me about Doller’s writing was how in the moment I felt while reading. Each scene is perfectly contained and advances the plot, allowing the reader to be completely immersed in the story. The prose has the hallmark of all good writing—it seems effortless.

Doller manages to captures so much emotion without slowing down the story. I was completely swept away in the narrative. This was definitely a “read in one sitting” book for me.

I love stories that have a sense of place. Some writers have a special talent for making a setting seem real and are able to bring the place to life in the mind of a reader with just words, and Doller certainly possesses this talent. This Florida ocean town with its vibrant Greek community, the docks and the tourist shop and Callie’s dad’s house and the new one he’s building, Alex’s boat and even the Airstream Callie lives in seemed so real, the details seamlessly integrated into the story.

The setting is unique and the perfect backdrop to Callie’s struggles with her identity after being suddenly thrust into this large extended family after relying on no one but herself and having no one but her mother to keep her company for over 10 years. The Greek culture felt authentic and added great flavor to this story. Doller beautifully captured small town life and sponge diver community.

This was one of my favorite contemporary YA reads of this year. It’s perfect for fans of Cath Crowley’s Graffiti Moon or Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta.

- Molly, YA

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