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.
(Summary from GoodReads)
Doller’s debut was one of my absolute favorite books the year I read it, so I couldn’t wait to get my hand on a copy of Where the Stars Still Shine. I really had no idea what to expect from this one given the synopsis, especially since a female narrator is a big departure from Doller’s previous work. Unsurprisingly enough, I once again got a stunning sense of setting, characters I couldn’t help but latch onto, and a story that broke my heart.
Callie’s life has been tough. Trusting others has been hard for her, and is especially hard when she finds herself thrust back into a community that she was once a part of but no longer remembers. Her story isn’t just about her, but about how others in her life have treated her and how she responds, which makes for fantastic character building. She goes from an irresponsible mother to an entire immediate family that wants to be actively involved in her life. Doller expertly writes the conflict everyone feels in this scenario. Callie is a compelling main character to read about because although she’s fiercely loyal to her family, she’s able to see their flaws, as well as the flaws in her relationships with them. It keeps her human and causes the reader's heart to break for her.
Where the Stars Still Shine is set in a tight knit Greek community in Florida. Doller’s setting is so vividly drawn that I could practically taste the Greek pastries and feel the sea salt on my skin as I read. The love interest Alex and Kat, Callie’s former BFF, are both part of this setting. Alex is not only a swoon worthy love interest, but he’s a well-crafted and relatable character. His life is messy as he struggles both with Callie and his own family. Meanwhile, Kat has to accept that the girl who is Tarpon Springs today is not the same girl who was kidnapped twelve years ago. The specific characters Doller has created may be fictional, but at the end of the day, her characters are among the most realistic I've read. They are the type of people that exist everyday, everywhere, and deal with struggles like the ones Doller depicts.
Another strong element of this book is Callie’s sexuality. She wants to have sex and actively pursues it. She also understand that sex does not equate with emotional intimacy—in fact, on an emotional level, sometimes sex is jarring and unhappy. It was refreshing to read about a character who had physical desires but didn't immediately have the best intercourse of her life. These honest experiences are the ones that teens deserve to read about.
Doller’s sophomore novel is one that will resonate with me because it’s messy, and I’m not talking about the writing or craftsmanship of the book. The story’s conclusion is open-ended and a lot of our characters are still sorting out their own lives. It’s raw and honestly in exactly the way that the storyline necessitates. I applaud Doller for seeing that messy characters and storylines can and should be turned into stories as gorgeous and heartwrenching as Where the Stars Still Shine.
Disclosure: My boss obtained a copy of this book for me at a conference.