Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper. Atheneum, 2015. 320 pages
Bottom Line: Stella by Starlight dramatizes the personal and social challenges of an African American girl growing up in the rural south of the 1930s.
One dark summer night in Bumblebee, North Carolina, Stella’s little brother Jojo wakes her up to go see an odd sight—on the other side of the pond, a fiery cross surrounded by men dressed in white. Stella guesses what it is, and her father knows for sure: another uprising of the Klan, right here, right now in 1932. Mighty inconvenient too, because the nation is getting ready for an election in which President Hoover will be thrown out and the charismatic, hopeful Franklin Roosevelt will be voted in. Pa would love to vote in that election, though the burning cross doesn’t bode well. Should Pa stand on principle, or lay low to protect his family? As his pastor prays, “Sometimes we’re not sure which path to take, whether it is time to fight, or time to wait. Help us to make the right decision, Lord, and help us to stand with nobility, no matter what, and to live without fear.”
In spite of this gripping premise, the novel is more episodic than sustained, with events loosely tied around whether or not Pa and a few others will vote. The other plot strand involves how Stella stopped hating to write and began to love it, especially after receiving a new typewriter. The story is based on the recollections of the author’s grandmother, also named Stella Mills. The characters tend to be a bit flat: either noble and kind or surly and mean. Stella herself is the most rounded character: alternately tentative, brave, scared, and likeable, but good company throughout the story.
Cautions: Violence (threatened)
Overall Rating: 4 (out of 5)
Categories: Middle Grades, Historical Fiction, Character Qualities