Thursday, March 30, 2023

The Star That Always Stays by Anna Rose Johnson

Title: The Star That Also Stays
Author: Anna Rose Johnson
Publication: Holiday House, hardcover, 2022
Genre: Juvenile historical fiction
Setting: 1914 Michigan
Description: Norvia Nelson is proud of her heritage, Chippewa on her mother’s side and Swedish on her father’s. If only her parents cared enough about their five children to stop arguing! But when Norvia’s mother finally divorces her father and remarries a gentleman from a nearby town with two adult daughters and a son of 13, she warns her children not to bring up their ancestry with their new family. Norvia misses her father but realizes there are benefits to her new, blended family: her stepfather is affluent and believes in education for women, so she is allowed to attend high school and read for pleasure. However, her best friend (former) and others are scornful of the new Mrs. Ward for being divorced. Stung, Norvia is determined to be popular at school despite them and tries too hard, not realizing she is more appealing when acting naturally. Once she gains confidence in who she really is and learns to identify true friends, Norvia can settle down to enjoy her new life.

My Impression: This is a charming middle-grade novel based on Anna Johnson’s great-grandmother’s story, which is quite remarkable. Norvia’s mother was a beautiful dressmaker who had the determination (and presumably the cash) to divorce her husband, who was well-intentioned but had a sort of wanderlust, leaving his wife and children for extended periods of time (I couldn’t help comparing him to Pa Ingalls, who dragged his family with him, although Ma yearned to stay closer to civilization; I suspect she would have been happy to be left behind). Norvia’s father seemed to be ashamed of his children’s Native American blood and did not want them to improve their station in life through education or maybe thought it was a lost cause. Norvia is upset when her mother wants to remarry but the whole family is much better off:
Norvia’s voice sounded more confident than she felt. “Of course you’ll make them happy! And you’re prettier than his first way, anyway,” she added with a giggle.

Ma laughed, too, and Norvia felt a bit of a weight roll of her chest. After Ma said good night and left, Norvia’s thoughts turned back toward this opulent house, this brand-new backdrop for her life. As much as she hated to admit it, this was the perfect place for a budding heroine, a girl destined for high school and – and romance, just like Ma had found. It was a grand, elegant home befitting of a pretty, well-liked young woman.
Not only does the new stepfather, now known as Uncle Virgil, willingly embrace the additions to his family, he is able to weather the disapproval of his peers, who are more concerned about his wife’s ex-husband than her Native American blood. This surprised cynical me but I suppose it is because she and the children are light-skinned (Norvia worries about her thick hair revealing her heritage) and not because the townspeople are enlightened! The book has a very strong religious flavor and one thing that surprised me was how easily the children abandoned their Catholic upbringing to attend the Presbyterian Church. While their mother has been excluded from the Church due to her divorce/remarriage, you would think she would encourage her children to attend without her for the sake of their immortal souls! But it might have been more awkward for Uncle Virgil to have practicing Catholics in his home. Presumably, Norvia’s grandmother and great-grandmother were converted by French-Canadian missionaries.

As Norvia navigates a strange school and activities, prejudice, and her first crush, getting help along the way, she becomes more mature and likable. Naturally, she is helped by the books she devours in her new home, Anne of Green Gables, A Little Princess, Patty Fairfield, Pollyanna, all full of admirable heroines and role models, which reflect the author's excellent taste! It is 26 years too early for Norvia to read Betsy-Tacy but Anna Johnson is a fan, and when Norvia is not stressing out about her school or family, there are passages Maud Hart Lovelace would definitely appreciate that come close to capturing the joy of Deep Valley High and the Ray family.
Source: Library. This is my seventh book for the 2023 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by Marg at the Intrepid Reader.


Lory said...

I've had my eye on this. It sounds absolutely delightful. Always welcome to encounter a book character with good literary taste.

CLM said...

I think you would like it, Lory. One thing I found interesting was her ninth grade subjects - English and Algebra are required and she adds Bookkeeping, Typing, Sewing, and Music. It never would have occurred to Betsy Ray to take courses that would help her earn a living one day!

TracyK said...

This sounds like a young adult novel that would appeal to adults also. The story is interesting, and I liked that it is based on the author's great-grandmother.

Vintage Reading said...

Any book that references the wonderful classic A Little Princess is OK by me! Enjoyed your review and adding to tbr list.