Friday, May 4, 2018

Book Review: A Harvest of Stars by Cecily Wolfe

Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

There is little mystery to A Harvest of Stars.  In the synopsis, the author tells us that Locklyn (Lock) Gaines lives with a drunken, abusive stepfather, Bobby Wyatt.  Her mother is too sick to help.  The townspeople turn a blind eye. There are only so many ways that story can end.  Then, there’s the boy obsessed with her, Isiah Parker.  That storyline too has limited options.  But even with much of the mystery gone, the author keeps us immersed, running our emotions from despair, to hope, to hate … as we wait for the other shoe to drop.

Before getting into characters and plot, it’s worth mentioning to the potentially interested reader that the genre for this book is misleading.  At the time of this writing, it was listed as a children’s book on dysfunctional relationships and abuse.  To me, this book is adult reading, or at a minimum, advanced teens.  The violence is not graphic, but it’s tense and suggestive, especially toward the end.

The author uses a theme – child abuse – that’s virtually guaranteed to elicit our emotions.  Lock is in a desperate situation.  But for us to fully feel her pain, to despise those that want to hurt her or who look away, the writing needs to be crisp, the characters real, and the plot believable.  There are places where the author meets these goals quite well.  I liked, for example, the way Lock had romanticized her mother and father’s relationship, when objectively, it seemed little more than a one-night stand.  She had little hope beyond her dreams.

But while parts were good, the author could have done more.  The writing was a bit muddled, often repetitive, and very slow developing.  Many of the sentences were run-on.  The characterization of both Lock and Isiah was lacking.  Lock, for example, seems almost fatalistic in the final scenes, trusting to the same defensive ploys that had failed her in the past.  Isiah, on the other hand, seems the quiet, overly polite friend, until suddenly in the second half of the book, he develops a temper and fighting skills.  It seemed a very convenient shift in personality to support the plot.  And finally, it’s never clear how Lock’s dire situation is perpetuated, why the townspeople never help.  The great grandmother’s haughtiness is blamed, but would anyone really care after so many years?  Then, her mother’s poor life choices are questioned, but why does that reflect on Lock?  And through it all, everyone knows that Bobby is a vile, brutal drunk, but they still ignore injuries even Isiah as a child noticed.  It doesn’t add up.

Overall, the theme – child abuse – is bound to elicit our emotions.  But the possibility of making us really ‘live’ Lock’s pain wasn’t fully realized, weakened by some muddled prose, inconsistent characters, and implausible obstacles.

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