Review: Where the Stars Still Shine

Review: Where the Stars Still ShineWhere the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller
Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens on September 24, 2013
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 352
Format: ARC
Source: Gifted
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five-stars

Stolen as a child from her large and loving family, and on the run with her mom for more than ten years, Callie has only the barest idea of what normal life might be like. She's never had a home, never gone to school, and has gotten most of her meals from laundromat vending machines. Her dreams are haunted by memories she’d like to forget completely. But when Callie’s mom is finally arrested for kidnapping her, and Callie’s real dad whisks her back to what would have been her life, in a small town in Florida, Callie must find a way to leave the past behind. She must learn to be part of a family. And she must believe that love--even with someone who seems an improbable choice--is more than just a possibility.

Trish Doller writes incredibly real teens, and this searing story of love, betrayal, and how not to lose your mind will resonate with readers who want their stories gritty and utterly true.

Trish Doller’s debut novel wasn’t one that I ordinarily would have picked out or been particularly interested in, but the reviews convinced me to give Something Like Normal a try. That was a wonderful bookish decision, because, though the topic itself didn’t appeal to me, Doller still managed to lure me into the book, a hold that didn’t release until the last page. In fact, the main character wasn’t someone I could relate to in the slightest, and the kind of person I would ordinarily loathe, but Doller made me care for him. This is I think the biggest strength of her writing, one she brings to bear in Where the Stars Still Shine as Well. Doller’s sophomore novel does not disappoint, covering similarly gritty subjects in an emotional and frank way.

As with Doller’s first novel, her sophomore effort once again centers around a main character very much unlike myself. Callie has lived the life of a migrant, following her itchy-footed mother from place to place. They barely have enough to make ends meet, often skipping town on overdue rent checks. Since childhood, Callie’s life has always been this way, and she’s not been to school since kindergarten. Her only education comes from books, scavenged from sales or libraries; reading is one of her only joys. Abused by one of her mother’s boyfriends, Callie’s view of sex and herself has been warped. She feels dirty, tainted, and throws herself into meaningless sexual encounters almost to prove her own opinion of herself. In pretty much every way, Callie’s life has been entirely unlike mine, and her decisions are ones that I would never personally make. And yet Doller works her author magic, making me feel for this girl and empathize with her in a way I ordinarily would not be able to do. Doller brings Callie to life and puts the reader into her mind so solidly that her flawed mental processes make sense.

When her mother is arrested, Callie’s world upends. Suddenly, her mother, her only family and sole companion for the last twelve years, is out of her life, and she’s to live with her father and his new family. Feeling oddly uprooted, Callie really has a chance to lay down roots for the first time, to make friends and have a family. Callie evolves slowly and believably. Even though her new family supports her and the community accepts her, the patterns of the previous decade are hard to break, and she continually makes decisions that push people away or that she knows to be unwise, like her hook ups with the hottest guy in town, Alex Kostas. As the book progresses, what I found most touching and powerful in Callie’s narration was the way it really opened up, the tone becoming cheerful and childlike as she feels settled and safe enough to really let go for the first time in years.

The familial relationships form the backbone of Where the Stars Still Shine. Though largely absent during the novel, Callie’s mother holds powerful sway over her. Even as the lies she’s been told surface, Callie cannot sever the ties to her mother, who was her whole world for so long. The power parents have over the emotions of their children is horrifying. Meanwhile, Callie’s father, Greg, is incredibly sweet but also awkward, trying to find the young child he lost in this distant seventeen-year-old. Basically Greg wins for planning to build Callie a library. Even Greg’s wife, who in many novels would be a villain, has a back story and depth to her, and helps Callie progress.

For the first time ever, Callie has the chance to make real friends. Initially, I was not a huge fan of Kat, Callie’s cousin, who barges into her life and claims best friend status. Kat comes across as pushy and selfish, forcing Callie into a set up with Connor, who really isn’t Callie’s type. Kat annoyed me and didn’t seem to be helping Callie much either. Towards the end of the book, though, Kat almost made me cry with her thoughtfulness, hidden under her rambunctious exterior. Though not a kindred spirit perhaps, she’s just the kind of person needed to help pull Callie out of her shell, emotional, open with her feelings, and understanding.

Where the Stars Still Shine does get fairly steamy, but not to a level that I find in any way inappropriate for a YA novel. Alex Kostas totally fooled me. I thought there was nothing to him but a guy looking to get laid, but he’s actually got his own reasons for being where he is. Actually, all people do, and that’s an easy thing to forget. I judged Alex off of that first moment he appeared, and that wasn’t all there was to him. I really like the way Doller handles the relationship between Callie and Alex. It hit just the right note and differed from so many YA romances.

Just last week, I visited Florida, and my friend, Kara, pointed out a heavily Greek neighborhood as she drove past while taking me to the airport. She even told me she’d bought her bath sponge there, which I thought was a really odd comment. Like, big whoop, it’s a sponge. However, I’m so glad she pointed these things out to me, because Where the Stars Still Shine takes place in Florida in a predominantly Greek community. Callie works in a shop that sells sponges to tourists and Kostas works on a sponging boat. The setting is a delight, the Greek characters shining with the same sort of close-knit community that I loved so much in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Perhaps my favorite thing about Where the Stars Still Shine, though, is that Doller doesn’t wrap everything up in a neat, shiny bow. Callie’s come a long way by the end, and so have some of the other characters, but there are still a lot of issues lingering. Though the ending is fairly happy, it’s not a happily ever after and it’s most definitely bittersweet. Real life doesn’t tend to get to complete perfection, and ending realistic fiction that way often seems misleading to me. Doller’s ending both satisfies and leaves room for a future with problems and changes.

Much as I loved Something Like Normal, I may even have loved Where the Stars Still Shine even more. Either way, Doller has cemented herself as one of the finest contemporary YA novelists. Her novels draw the reader in and help create empathy for people in situations that might be radically different from one’s own.

Favorite Quote:

“The binding is starting to come apart on the math textbook I bought for a quarter at a Friends of the Library sale. It was printed in 1959, but I love that it’s still relevant, that math is a constant in a world that is not.”

Don’t Take My Word for It:
Great Imaginations’ word: “all the characters were perfectly flawed” – 5 stars
Jenna Does Books’ word: “gives you hope that the stars really do shine for us all” – 5 stars
Badass Book Reviews’ word: “There isn’t a particularly solid plot line in this book” – 4 stars

21 responses to “Review: Where the Stars Still Shine”

  1. Alessandra says:

    Ooh, 5 stars. I requested this from Netgalley but wasn’t approved. Apparently Bloomsbury USA only approves requests from the USA. Oh well, it comes out next week. I’ll wait.
    Alessandra recently posted…Book review: Ashes by Ilsa J. BickMy Profile

  2. Thank you for the shout out in your review! The town I got my sponge from is actually the town in this book because I was curious after reading and wanted to go there. And I also wanted to take photos for my review. And leave my sponge aloneeeee! LOLOL.

    Loved your review and I am so glad you enjoyed this one. I was hoping you would but I didn’t expect you to love it as much as me because that rarely ever happens. I am so glad it did though!
    Kara @ Great Imaginations recently posted…Waiting on Wednesday (38): Death Becomes BooksMy Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      Bahaha, I forgot to link you in the review, but you’re at the bottom, so I guess it’s all good. OMG, the actual town! I couldn’t remember the name of the area you pointed out. X_X Lol, I said I was glad, you know, in the long run. Until I read the book, I thought it was just your bath products obsession, which is TOTALLY a thing.

      Ha, Trish Doller’s books are ALL about character and personal growth and realism and just feeeeeels all over the place for me. Her next one doesn’t come out until 2015, and that is not okay.

  3. Jen says:

    This is one of my favorite books I’ve read so far this year! I love how Trish doesn’t wrap everything up in a shiny bow at the end, but it still works somehow. I also thought Callie’s relationship with Greg was one of the most positive father/daughter ones I’ve seen in a YA book. I’m glad you enjoyed it. 🙂

    • Christina Franke says:

      While she did sell me on Alex and Callie, I am SO SO glad that it didn’t end in an HEA. They might end up married someday and they might go their separate ways. That does not happen often enough. You’re so right about Greg and Callie’s relationship. He’s such a good dad. 🙂

  4. This line in your review sealed the deal for me.
    “As the book progresses, what I found most touching and powerful in Callie’s narration was the way it really opened up, the tone becoming cheerful and childlike as she feels settled and safe enough to really let go for the first time in years.”

    I initially brushed off this book because well, nothing drew me to it but reading your review, I feel like I have to read it now. It does remind me a lot of If You Find Me where the MC has to move with her father and new family, I am really liking how authors aren’t making step-mothers villains anymore because of course they aren’t all bad, it’s too cliche. *adds to wishlist*
    Charlotte @ Gypsy Reviews recently posted…Review: Kinslayer by Jay Kristoff (#81)My Profile

  5. Jenni says:

    Hm this one seems like it has its fair share of characters that take you by surprise. I love how you didn’t see the depth in the characters and then BAM! you’re getting all teary eyed at their actions. I know that I need to get my hands on this one, it sounds so good and I loved Something Like Normal. Plus both you and Kara loved it so I’m sold right there.

    I love commenting on your new blog!!!!!!!!!
    Jenni recently posted…Fangirl ReviewMy Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      They did! I was totally misjudging people left and right, which is accurate for real life too, actually. :-p

      You will probably love this. So many feels and dark themes. YES..

      I love you commenting on my new blog! I’m almost around to Alluring Reads on my commenting. I’m coming for you!

  6. Rachel says:

    I was avoiding reviews for this book because I’m incredibly excited about it, but I’m glad I caved and read yours. I haven’t read Something Like Normal so my expectations are pretty much non-existent. I can totally relate to the feeling of not having a home (though not in the same way has her), so I’m excited to see the whole making roots and creating a new family thing play out. Also, romance! And I’m SO glad the guy isn’t all about just getting laid because that is a total turnoff.
    Rachel recently posted…YA Debut Authors Bash: Erica Lorraine Scheidt Interview + Giveaway!My Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      Hahaha, I’ll be curious to see if you enjoy it, because I know we often disagree on things, but I loved it. Everything’s just so well-characterized and realistic. Everyone has flaws, but they’re mostly all lovable as well, at least if you give them some time to grow on you. *snuggles book*

  7. fakesteph says:

    I haven’t read Doller’s first book, but I’m really looking forward to this one. Where the Stars Still Shine sounds like the kind of story I love. (PS–your transfer looks great!)
    fakesteph recently posted…Waiting On Wednesday: Exile (Keeper of the Lost Cities #2) by Shannon MessengerMy Profile

  8. Okay, Christina, wow. I wouldn’t say I had zero interest in reading this book because that would be a big, fat fib but I was reluctant because Something like Normal was good but it didn’t quite hit that note in me. But this review says I not only need to give her sophomore effort a shot, it also says I WILL LOVE IT. Each detail I now want to read and I can’t wait to meet these characters!
    Marathon @ Paranormal Indulgence recently posted…A CASE OF TEABS: GOODBYE MORGANVILLE!My Profile

  9. Arial says:

    Your review sealed the deal! I will have to rush out to the bookstore to buy this one immediately. Only six more days, only six more days.
    I adore books with strong characterization and family ties. You are completely right about how it’s scary how much influence parents have over their kids. I really love seeing that play out over the course of a story.
    Gaaah, I cant wait to read Where the Stars Still Shine.
    Arial recently posted…Waiting on Wednesday – ViciousMy Profile

  10. Molli says:

    OH HI NEW BLOG. DON’T YOU LOOK PRETTY.

    Okay, so this book. You liked it a little more than I did, but we liked a lot of the same things: the family dynamics, and we CARED about Callie. I think I’m still stunned I liked her AS much as I did, considering some of her behavior and decisions. Even if I didn’t always get her, I cared, and that made me really want to know how things turned out for her and keep reading.

    And Alex.

    Man, I just love how Trish writes these compelling REAL characters who aren’t perfect and who ARE flawed and have layers. And I love what you said about how the ending doesn’t try too hard to be neat. I think I said the same thing in my review. 🙂 (Also, the review you have as mine goes to Jenna Does Books, so you know, though you’re welcome to check out my review.)
    Molli recently posted…I Need a(n) (Anti)Hero!My Profile

  11. Heather says:

    I almost picked this up at ALA, and now I super wish I would’ve followed through. I can’t wait to read this 🙂

    Also, your new design is lovely!

  12. I am jealous you have so many words for this book and meanwhile, all I can do is get teary-eyed due to the feels and bang my head on the keyboard.
    Ashleigh Paige recently posted…Review: Steelheart by Brandon SandersonMy Profile

  13. Jessie says:

    okay I AM THE BLACKSHEEP FOR THIS BOOK.

    I can totally see why everyone else has adored it, but… for me,, ehh. I mean, I liked it enough for 3/5 but it didn’t leave a lasting impression.

    And also, once Bekka pointed out the similarities between it and IYFM, that’s all I could see.

    I definitely agree that Doller covers tricky subjects well. I may not have loved this book itself, but I did enjoy it enough to be curious about SLN.

    My biggest problem was a lack of connection to any of the characters. I’m like you in that the main character’s life was utterly unlike my own, but unlike you, I just couldn’t fully empathize with/care about Callie.

    UGHHH AT KAT. I did not care for her character either. The way she demands so much of Callie immediately put me off. Sure, some teenage girls are pushy and selfish, but I probably won’t like them if they are. That said — I do love how important family was to the story. You’re dead on that it’s the backbone of the whole thing.

    Ahashahaha – your story about Kara. BIG WHOOP DE DO KARA. And then BAM this book comes along and it all connects. That’s pretty cool. And I wish there was a big Greek neighborhood here – we only have one Greek restaurant and it is not as good.

    Also the “Don’t Take My Word For It” links — LOVE that idea.

    Great review, Christina. I’m glad so many people have loved this book. I may not be on the same level but I am curious enough to seek out the author’s other book.
    Jessie recently posted…15 Day Blogger Challenge – Blog AppealMy Profile

  14. Bookworm1858 says:

    See I didn’t quite like the ending. I’m a reader who likes things more wrapped up and wanted some more resolution on some of the storylines particularly about the mother.
    Bookworm1858 recently posted…Ramblings and the Week to Come 29SEP13My Profile

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