Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass, 322 pp RL 5
Every Soul a Star is now available in paperback and I would like to call it to your attention - again. My apologies to those of you who read this review when it first posted, and to those of you who haven't read it, I hope you are inspired to seek out this spectacular book!
With her latest novel Every Soul a Star, Wendy Mass confirms that she is the young adult version of the literary novelist AS Byatt. Like Byatt, who often weaves the subjects like the study of ant colonies, works of art and poetry into her stories and books, Mass has a scientific, philosophical knowledge that she is able seamlessly sew into her works that always focus on the small (and sometimes big) things in life that shape us as human beings.
Every Soul a Star begins with three quotes and a definition, the title of the book coming from Plato's "Timaeus." The title is thought provoking and works on many levels, referring both to the self discovery and growth of the main characters as well as the phenomenal astrological event that serves as he catalyst for this growth. While the three main characters in Every Soul a Star, each of whom narrate their own chapters alternately, sometimes covering the same events from different perspectives, aren't chocked full of as many unique and quirky characteristics as Jeremy and Lizzy in Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, they are just as compelling and maybe even a little bit more real because of this. The three narrators, Ally, Bree and Jack, have corresponding symbols at the bottom of each page to indicate who the narrator is. Ally, short for Alpha, which is what the brightest star in any constellation and who's symbol is a crescent moon, begins the book. True to her name, Ally shines brightest and is afforded the most emotional growth and insight in her story. Bree, the star symbol, thinks of herself as a star - a fashion star in training - comes to appreciate the other kinds of stars in the world. Jack, a quiet disaffected loner who loves science fiction and drawing space aliens in his notebook is the planet symbol.
The three, who are all at some point in their thirteenth year, meet at the Moon Shadow campground, purchased ten years earlier by Ally's parents who knew that it would "be the only patch of land in the entire country to lie smack dab in the path of the Great Eclipse when it passes overhead." Home schooled by parents who are interested in astronomy and surrounded by others who share that interest and visit the campground for its various astronomically themed events, Ally is an expert, often giving lectures to the campers. Bree is there with her scientist parents and super smart younger sister Melanie because they have just bought the camp and are relocating their family, much to Bree's distress. Jack is at Moon Shadow because he has agreed to be his science teacher, Mr Silver's, assistant on a Great Eclipse tour he is leading in lieu of attending summer school to make up for the science course he failed. Of all the characters, Jack is the most introverted and initially seems at risk of falling through the cracks. With his father who left before he was born, his SD1, SD2, SD3 (step-dad one, step-dad two, etc) and his secret stash of junk food and science fiction novels in his tree house, he seems borderline depressed. But, soon into his story he begins to open up through his relationships with the young kids on the tour and the sense of responsibility he gains through this.
Both Ally and Bree are devastated by the thought of leaving their homes for such radically different environments and, once they befriend each other, they plan a sort of "Parent Trap" scenario that will hopefully convince their parents to change their minds. Of course, Bree has to explain what "Parent Trap" is to Ally since she has never heard of the movie, living miles away from civilization for the last ten years. The plan fails, but both girls gradually come to accept their fate, the Great Eclipse at the end of the story serving as a keystone event in all three of their lives, something so universally special and unique that they realize that there is no way they can go forth from that day without being changed. Within these personal stories, Mass threads information about stars, planets, eclipses and even space aliens. The Moon Shadow campgrounds have five unusuals, interesting attractions to draw in visitors, which includes the Alien Center, a room with a computer dedicated to sweeping the sky for alien transmissions twenty-four hours a day and is part of SETI, the organization that is involved in searching of extraterrestrial intelligence. Campers can sit in front of the computer waiting to be the first to witness an alien signal coming in.
Words and ideas like "solar particles," "Orion Nebula," and "Baily's Beads" are dropped into the story frequently and unobtrusively, and explained as inconspicuously. You almost don't realize until you get to the end of the book and read the author's note and further reading (very informative and useful) that you have read a story so jam packed with information. Yet, the stories of Ally, Bree and Jack never take a back seat to the astronomical aspects of the story, but are impeccably intertwined with it. Having never seen a complete solar eclipse myself, in person or on television, Mass's descriptions were compelling, especially electricity of the group excitement at witnessing this event together. And, best of all, we get to witness it three times as Ally, Bree and Jack each describe the event.
There are hints at romance in this book, but it is not because of this that I would recommend this book to a more mature reader. While the story itself, the activities and excitement leading up to the eclipse, are entertaining on their own, the subtle evolution of the characters, even the secondary characters, is so marvelously written that I would hate to think of a reader missing it. However, Wendy Mass's books, like all great books, can be read and enjoyed on many levels and that is the most important to keep in mind when a child chooses a book.