THE STARRY CHILD
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood
Contemporary Fairy Tale Fantasy
When Rainey’s husband died in a plane crash, she didn’t just lose a husband, she lost her whole way of life. Their eight-year-old daughter stopped talking, so to care for Sasha, Rainey gave up a high-powered career. They have moved from city to city, using up their savings trying to escape a scientist who is determined to try experimental treatments on Sasha. Friendship after friendship is lost because people are antagonistic toward Sasha’s strange behavior. Now, Child Services is going to take Sasha away from Rainey.
Rainey and Sasha have no one on their side but their next door neighbor Emma, until linguist Matt Macinnes joins their little group. To Matt, Sasha mysteriously speaks ancient Gaelic. Sorting through the clues in her behavior, Matt believes Sasha is connected in spirit with a Scottish princess of ancient legend.
Nothing but the imminent threat of losing Sasha would have induced the determinedly practical Rainey to go along with Matt’s nonsense. Mythological swords and crowns? Souls trapped in a thousand years of mourning? A fairy, standing on her hand, asking her to save the man she loves – maybe that will be enough to get through to Rainey. The story seems set for a predictable resolution. Then we are surprised by a delightfully satisfying ending.
Backstories are of great importance in THE STARRY CHILD. Sasha isn’t the only character with an ancient past. Matt, the protector, lives with the agony of remembering times he failed to protect those he loved. Now he is about to find out why. In the sudden understanding between Matt and Sasha, Rainey is the odd-person-out. Her fear of faith and hope is greater than all her other fears put together. Rainey’s stubborn mistrust, what she calls realism, forms the most discordant note in this book. There has to be a saving grace for Rainey, if only to make the book enjoyable reading.
THE STARRY CHILD is a modern fairy tale, about bureaucracy overwhelmed by stars, ancient redwoods, and a Celtic princess in disguise. Fairy tales don’t take kindly to shades of gray, which explains why Rainey and Sasha are under attack by so many enemies. In real life, there would be passers-by sympathetic to their plight, fellow mothers recognizing the difficulties Rainey is dealing with, concerned citizens demonstrating against the evil scientist. Instead, they face an unbelievable degree of misunderstanding and malice, which emphasizes the contrast with the warmth of their few friends.
Author Lynn Hanna says that as she first shopped THE STARRY CHILD around for a publisher, most editors and agents were afraid to take a chance with it because it has elements of several different genres. The website of NovelBooks says that during its original publication in 1998, THE STARRY CHILD was chosen as one of the Top 200 Books of Women's Fiction of All Time. No matter what the criteria for the "Top 200" were, obviously most editors and agents need to re-think. The story of THE STARRY CHILD has its own identity. The considerations of Marketing, however insistent, can’t change a story’s identity. As Matt says, "God save us from all realists."
Aug 2003 Review
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