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.
Having heard nothing but praise for Trish Doller’s debut, Something Like Normal, I knew I needed to give her second book a try. I had heard that Trish writes extremely real characters that make you feel, and was really in the mood for a well-written contemporary read. Thankfully, that’s precisely what I got from Where the Stars Still Shine. I found this book to be utterly compelling, with a flawed, wonderfully written main character whose life has been ripped apart and is forced to come to terms with the truth about her mom and other unsavory details from her past. Throw in a swoon-worthy love interest, a unique and fun setting, and a fabulous personal journey, and I have very little to complain about in this review at all.
What I loved the most about this book was that Callie felt very real to me. While I didn’t always like her reactions to her circumstances, I was able to understand them, and found that her flaws made her all that more compelling, and ultimately helped me really connect with her. Her extremely complicated relationship with her mother – who has been all she’s known for most of her life, but has likewise done things Callie cannot forgive – was just really well-written and developed to the point where you could feel Callie’s conflict whenever she tried to think about what she wanted to do. Her inner turmoil was balanced out nicely by perhaps the nicest dad in existence, who just really loved her and wanted her to have a place where she felt safe. Watching their relationship form and fall into place was beautiful to read, particularly since it takes Callie so very long to figure out what she wants.
And then there’s our main guy, Alex, who is full of his own complications. I kind of loved that people had this very incorrect view of who he was, and liked even more that Callie managed to worm her way beneath his defenses. While their attraction to each other was literally instantaneous – they very nearly have sex the first time they meet – it still felt realistic to me, particularly considering Callie and the way she’s previously dealt with boys. I loved that each was able to help the other through some issues in their personal life, and liked even more that it wasn’t always rosy and wonderful. I know I keep saying this, but honestly it all just really felt legit, and like something that could – and does – happen to real people in everyday life.
Where the Stars Still Shine isn’t just about Callie and Alex, though, as the very colorful cast of supporting characters really helped to flesh out the story and provide wonderful backdrop. I especially liked Kat, Callie’s pushy best friend/cousin, mostly because she, too, has some issues and was very straightforward in addressing them. Two of those supporting characters – Callie’s little brothers – however, are the cause of the thing I didn’t love, which was the fact that Callie leaves them alone at one point to go outside to talk with Alex. My teacher brain was screaming at me about how unsafe this was, and I wanted to smack both Callie and Alex and make them move their conversation back inside. Obviously, you probably won’t have such a visceral reaction to something so minor, so feel free to completely ignore the last three sentences.
All in all, I came away from Where the Stars Still Shine understanding exactly why people are praising Trish Doller’s ability to write real characters that reach in and grab you and don’t let you go. I am definitely going to go back and read her debut novel, because my reading list can certainly use a little more well-done contemporary. While I’m not quite ready to proclaim her an auto-buy author just yet, I’m sure she’s well on her way to making that (not terribly long) list!
An e-galley was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.