Debut author Herrera deftly combines family drama with a school and friendship story.
Ten-year-old Star Mackie lives with her older sister and their mother in a trailer park in Northern California. Her first-person narrative takes place during the fall of her fifth-grade year. New to the area, Star struggles to make friends at school, worries about her increasingly moody sister and wonders about the father she’s never known. The author handles the Mackie family’s financial and domestic situation with delicacy and respect, allowing readers to gradually get to know the difficulties her characters face. At home and at school, there’s plenty packed into a few short weeks, from a trip to ferret out family secrets to repeated detentions and a food fight. Some readers may find the overall story arc predictable, and unfortunately, charismatic secondary characters occasionally outshine Star. Homework assignments inserted throughout provide additional background information and some mild humor, though Star’s observations can seem naïve. By contrast, the poems and ideas shared by Star and the members of her Emily Dickinson Club are intriguing and inspiring if not especially childlike in tone.
Well-constructed, thought-provoking and appealing, this first effort bodes well for the author’s future despite some minor missteps. (Fiction. 9-12)