THE STARPLACE by Vicki Grove: A Review

This 1999 YA novel has been sitting on my TBR shelf since buying it from Half Price Books’ Clearance several months ago.  I bought it to put out in my Little Free Library in the side yard, but I wanted to read it first. With Hurricane Harvey delaying the opening of schools, I had enough time to read more than usual this past week, and since the novel is set in the time I was in junior high and high school, during the height of the Civil Rights era and “forced” integration of schools, I was intrigued.

On the Puffin paperback, a reviewer describes it as dealing with Friendship…”in spite of racism.” Francine, aka Frannie and her friends Margot, Nancy, and Kelli, meet the new girl to Quiver, a small town in Oklahoma who is named Celeste.  She is the first African American the girls, and almost the town, have ever seen up close. Max, Theodore, and Jason–misfits at their junior high, are the girls’ “friends who are boys–not boyfriends.”

Frannie fancies herself a “modern” Nancy Drew, as this excerpt clearly shows:

“My name is Driscoll, F.E. Driscoll, girl detective…Driscoll will get to the bottom of this mystery of the searchers from the haunted house (Celeste and her father) no matter how many hours of secret surveillance it takes.”

Frannie’s impression of Celeste on the first day of seventh grade is that Celeste is “polished,” like her polished fingernails (Frannie bites hers) wearing saddle shoes, bobby socks, a circle skirt, and maintaining her composure amid curious and some malevolent stares. As Frannie and Celeste’s friendship deepens, meeting at the “rocket” in Frannie’s back yard, aka “The Starplace”, they exchange rhinestone bobby pins and become Star Sisters. Until she met Celeste, Frannie did not concern herself with the news on TV about sit-ins, firehosed young people or snarling dogs nipping at teenagers’ heels. She refused to listen to the evening news which poured out rhetoric about the “Red Threat” or even connect this with the “drills” they had begun at school.

All these fashions and things came directly out of my seventh and eighth grade years. Like Frannie, my folks tried to protect me from “such things,” never lying to me, but not bringing “delicate subjects that children don’t have to concern themselves with” up for discussion.

The book has a hilarious account of a patiently planned luau that turns out to be a catastrophe instead of making the four friends “popular” and cool. I laughed out loud. There is mystery; there is romance–a teen crush on Robin, Batman’s sidekick; and there is the complexity of best friends vs.new friends. Not only will young adults appreciate this peek into history (perhaps their grandparents’ day) but oldsters like me will look nostalgically back on kinder, simpler times which seemed so full of angst to us back then.

 

Author: Rae Longest

This year (2019) finds me with 50 years of teaching "under my belt." I have taught all levels from pre-K "(library lady" or "book lady"--volunteer) to juniors, seniors, and graduate students enrolled in my Advanced Writing class at the university where I have just completed 30 years. My first paying teaching job was junior high, and I spent 13 years with ages 12-13, the "difficult years." I had some of the "funnest" experiences with this age group. When I was no longer the "young, fun teacher," I taught in an elementary school setting before sixth graders went on to junior high, teaching language arts blocs, an assignment that was a "dream-fit" for me. After completing graduate school in my 40s, I went on to community college, then university teaching. Just as teaching is "in my blood," so is a passion for reading, writing, libraries, and everything bookish. This blog will be open to anyone who loves books, promotes literacy and wants to "come out and play."

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