Saturday, October 6, 2012
Review: Tracing Stars by Erin Moulton
Tracing Stars has a number of good children's novel ingredients: a tomboy main character, an aspiring-actress older sister, a sidekick who's quirky and smart (the kind of kid who uses big words and carries around a notebook of scientific observations), a vivid small-town setting (in this case, a New England fishing village), and the loss of a treasured pet.
In some authors' hands, these ingredients would make for a run-of-the-mill "nice story." However, Moulton's scene-writing is superior to most writers'. If you like books like Because of Winn Dixie and The Romeo and Juliet Code, you'll like this, too. Nothing fancy or genre-bending, but a satisfying story with plucky characters and a dreamy setting.
Also, although Moulton uses familiar ingredients, she gives them a little twist. For example, the treasured pet who gets lost is a lobster. Cuddly, huh?
But back to the scene-writing: it's fast-paced and funny. In an early scene, main character India Lee Chicory tries to hide her pet lobster in her shirt. When a claw peeks out between the buttons, the other children in the school yard think an alien is breaking out of her stomach. What's even funnier is India Lee's reaction: she untucks her shirt and lets the lobster fall out "to show them it's nothing worth panicking about." And that shows you just how different India Lee is from the perfectly accessorized counterpart her older sister wants her to be.
The rift between the sisters grows when older sister Bebe gets a role in summer theater and wants to impress the sophisticated out-of-town girls who are also in the cast. Lee tries to support her sister, but she finds it difficult to give up wearing Carhartt's and making fish faces. Plus, she's more interested in an elaborate scheme to recapture the Lobster Monty Cola.
My one complaint about the novel is that the story wraps up abruptly. There's no denouement. It's like:BAM! Confrontation! In the words of the main character, "My two world collided." But we never experience the fall-out.
In fact, after sensitively depicting the tension between siblings when one tries to grow up/sellout, Moulton takes the sisters' relationship backwards rather than forwards. In the last scene, Bebe makes a "fish face" at Lee, signaling a return to their old way of being sisters. I think in real life, it's hard to go back.
Nevertheless, I like the book a whole lot. India Lee Chicory's voice is authentic* and her search for the Lobster Monty Cola is a hilarious, tall-tale of a caper. The themes of sisterhood and what it means to be the best version of yourself are developed naturally, but the emphasis is on rollicking good storytelling. Well done, my fellow librarian.
*And thank goodness, she doesn't make any wise-beyond-her-years observations about the ways of the world, because I hate that television kid stuff.