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January Favorite: Stella by Starlight January 18, 2015

Posted by ccbooks in Analysis.
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Halfway through January, I’ve read nearly 25 books. More than half have been picture books and slightly less than half have been by or about people of color. I’ve only read one ‘adult’ book (the entertaining Scandals of Classic Hollywood by Anne Helen Petersen) but I’ve read equal amounts of middle grade and YA.

stellaEverything I’ve read has been worthwhile, but the book that grabbed my heart was Stella by Starlight, a new historical fiction book by Sharon Draper. Based partly on family history and the town where her father and grandmother grew up, it’s about a community in the 1930’s struggling to assert their rights against the horrific racism of whites in the town. At the same time, it’s about a girl and her coming of age, as she gains new skills, and learns more about her world. Draper doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of life for blacks in that place and time, but she also includes episodes of school days, and community gatherings that add humor and warmth to the narrative.

I think one of the biggest strengths of this book is how easy it is to identify with Stella. She draws the reader in with her struggles over writing essays, annoyance with her little brother and anxieties about the KKK being active in the neighborhood. There is no way for me–a white/Latina middle class girl born in the 80’s–to really understand the challenges and racism faced by Stella and her family. But reading her story helps me to try and imagine what if my father were insulted and threatened for trying to vote. What if  it were a real possibility my house would be burned down if I angered a neighbor? Stories like Stella by Starlight help us better understand both our history and its effect on us today. That is one reason we need more diverse books and this one truly delivers.

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