Also posted as a guest review over at Paranormalhaven.com
Trish Doller’s Something Like Normal was one of my favorite reads last year and when I saw she had a new novel coming out this year, I *may* have squealed in happiness. Ahem. Where The Stars Still Shine is Ms. Doller’s sophomore effort, and while I will say that I am a definite fan of her work, I wasn’t as enamored with this book as I was her previous one.
Kidnapped by her mother when she was only five years old, Callista “Callie” Tzorvas hasn’t seen her father and extended family for over 12 years. When Callie and her mother are pulled over by the local police, Callie has no idea that her world is going to change in that instant. Callie is then taken to a town called Tarpon Springs to live with her father, his wife and their two sons.
Overwhelmed and missing her mother, Callie is portrayed extremely well as a teenager that is trying to find her way after having her mother taken away and being carted off to a father she hasn’t seen in years. She’s awkward and unused to making polite conversation, but is sensitive to the fact that she doesn’t want to hurt her father’s feelings, stranger though he might be.
While the book reads smoothly and is well paced, I found myself pretty disconnected from Callie. I couldn’t understand why her father let her dictate the terms of all their interactions. Yes, she has been through an awful ordeal, but she’s still a minor. She shouldn’t have to make all the decisions and I just got more and more frustrated with how that was handled between them both. Greg’s wife, Phoebe, has the temerity to suggest that her kids might not be safe around Callie, and while this wasn’t geared to make the reader feel any sort of sympathy towards her, this came across as a grounded and realistic fear that a mom might have.
There was another subplot in which Callie meets Alex and becomes intimate with him. The relationship starts off with both of them having sex first, then slowly having the emotional ties develop as they learn more about each other. He was written as a perfectly serviceable character, but my feeling was that since Callie really carries the story, how he was portrayed wasn’t nearly as important.
Another big plot point to the story is that Callie’s mother has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. This affects Callie’s sense of self in that she wonders if she possess the same mental illness as her mother, but this is all for naught, as Callie will at times act like a self-absorbed teenager, but also demonstrates sensitivity and a strong sense of self-awareness. The mental illness aspect of her mother was something I least liked about the book. Was I supposed to feel bad for the mother? Because the mother isn’t written as anything but a cardboard character. She’s all selfishness, all about the “id”, and doesn’t believe Callie when she tries to tell her about the abuse suffered at the hands of one of her mom's “boyfriends”. The character is the least well developed and has one of the most complicated backgrounds. This combination didn’t make for a good representation of mental illness and I struggled with how to convey this in the review.
All the same, Trish Doller has a stellar voice, and if you’re looking for a solid storyteller in the YA genre, you should definitely give her a try.