Book Review – Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper
June 11, 2015
When the Ku Klux Klan’s unwelcome reappearance rattles Stella’s segregated southern town, bravery battles prejudice in this Depression-era tour de force from Sharon Draper, the New York Times bestselling author of Out of My Mind.
Stella lives in the segregated South; in Bumblebee, North Carolina, to be exact about it. Some stores she can go into. Some stores she can’t. Some folks are right pleasant. Others are a lot less so. To Stella, it sort of evens out, and heck, the Klan hasn’t bothered them for years. But one late night, later than she should ever be up, much less wandering around outside, Stella and her little brother see something they’re never supposed to see, something that is the first flicker of change to come, unwelcome change by any stretch of the imagination. As Stella’s community – her world – is upended, she decides to fight fire with fire. And she learns that ashes don’t necessarily signify an end.
So, awhile ago I did a post on how I choose books. In that post, I listed this book and said that the cover of this particular book was a big draw for me (based on the font of the title and the character illustrations). I stated that it looked like something magical was about to happen. What I failed to notice (and what seems so very obvious now) is that there is a burning cross in the background. Needless to say, this book had a very different tone than I had anticipated. In the end, I have lots of great things to say about it though!
On the Plus Side:
- I love that this book is based on the diary and stories of Draper’s grandmother who grew up in the segregated South. Although this is a fictional account, it provides such a realistic view of life during the 1930’s from the point of view of a child.
- You will absolutely feel uncomfortable at points during this book, because Draper is able to evoke such a sense of injustice over these key events in our history (particularly the parts that detail the activities of the Ku Klux Klan). However, I think this feeling of being uncomfortable teaches us a great deal about the kind of person we all should be and how we should treat others.
- I loved all of the characters in the story. The characters of Stella and her family are so well-developed and vivid, and I would love to read more about them someday!
- Draper provides a varied slice of life during this time – there are a wide variety of characters, all representing different viewpoints, social economic statuses, races, and political views.
- I also loved Draper’s writing. It was so easy to create images to go with the plot, and to truly imagine what it looked and felt like to be present during the novel. Here are a couple of my favorite quotes (I could have given you so many more, but these are probably the ones that stuck with me the most):
“Sometimes bravery is just doin’ what you gotta do.”
“If you are afraid, then those who foster hatred will win.”
“Never be afraid to be honest and stand up for what is right, Stella,” he said pointedly. “Just remember to balance your courage with wisdom.”
- The pacing of the book is also excellent – you will never feel like the plot is dragging, and you will probably read it in a short amount of time.
On the Minus Side:
- This is another book in which there are no significant minuses for me! Run out and read it now!
I think this is a book everyone should read, particularly intermediate grade students. It provides such an age appropriate perspective on the prejudice and segregation that existed in this country less than a century ago. It is such an important part of history, and I love this account from a child’s point of view.
What did you think of Stella by Starlight? What other novels do you recommend that deal with a similar time and topic?