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The Silver Star - Jeannette Walls It’s been a weird year, you guys. I bleached my hair blonde again, and if I haven’t mentioned it before, people say the most ridiculous stuff to blondes. It’s crazy. It’s like people are standing in line to make idiots out of themselves if you have blonde hair. Blondes, you guys have to dye your hair brown for a while. Just do it to see what life is like on the other side. It’s real different. You can go places and not have people be asses to you. Samples of some of the weird things people have said (and these are not even close to the worst):

1. I was walking down a hall and a security officer in his fifties or sixties was walking towards me. I realized that I needed something back at my desk, so I turned around. As I was walking away, the security officer said, “Are you ticklish?”

I turned around, and thinking I must have misheard him, said, incredulously, “What?!”

“Are you ticklish?” He repeated.

“Huh,” I said, and walked away. Then I spent the next week trying to figure out if there is another, totally normal meaning to that question. People have not been able to tell me one, so if you know of anything, pass it along.

2. I was judging oral arguments at the law school last spring. I was wearing a judge’s robe and sitting on the bench in the school’s classroom that is set up like a courtroom. There were two other judges in robes, and the professor of the class was there. To provide context, when I was in school, oral arguments were the most terrifying thing I did.

The topic of the oral arguments was an allegedly illegal seizure, and one of the issues was whether the discovery of a warrant against the defendant, in the words of the Supreme Court, “purged the taint of the illegality of the initial search.” So, we had questions written out for us as suggestions of what to ask the students. I had to ask this one question about the warrant issue, and I was trying to say it in my own words, but I was stumbling. The student interrupted me, said he knew what I was trying to ask, and answered the question.

Then, as he was leaving the room, after his argument was done, he said in a low voice, but still TO A JUDGE IN A ROBE AND IN FRONT OF HIS TERRIFYING PROFESSOR, either, “Gotta purge that taint, huh?” or “I’ll help you purge that taint.” And he didn’t do it in so much of a come-on way, as much as he did it in this way like that was why I had stumbled over the question and we were sharing an inside joke.

We were so not sharing that joke.

So, those are just a couple of the less-lawsuit-material, less-totally-dehumanizing experiences I’ve had with this blonde hair business. I bet, at this point, you are seriously wondering how I am going to wrap this idea around to relate to the book. Here’s how: I think having blonde hair makes people associate me as a child, so they feel more free to say inappropriate things and show terrible judgment. And Jeannette Walls is so amazing at telling stories of what assholes people are to kids. She is a genius at telling these gut-wrenching stories without being maudlin. And lord knows I can’t handle the maudlin. So, like the people in Byler, I am left thinking that if some skinny kids can stand up for themselves in this way, I can. It was, you know, inspirational, without being sickly heartwarming.

The Silver Star is the story of two sisters who just experience life kicking the shit out of them, like ya do, and respond by being these brilliant, scrappy heroes. This story is not accusatory, and it is unflinching, and it’s not exploitative of the victimization of children, but it touches on just about every hideous topic possible. I guess something I love about Walls is that she isn’t writing for middle-class comfort, and to me that makes her stories more true and less manipulative than most. And this book touched on almost every hot-button issue: civil rights, Vietnam, corporatization, child neglect, and sexual assault, so it was rife with opportunities for me to get mad about exploitation and privilege comfort. But, Walls knows how to tell that stuff.

It seems like, at least on some level, this book is a response to The Help. Maybe Walls had this crisis of conscience and thought, “Eeeesh, someone needs to show this unfortunate Stockett woman how to write with a little humility about experiencing the South in the Civil Rights Era.” And this is how you do it. You know your own perspective, and you recognize that not everyone admired you. Not that this book is even really about racism, other than in a peripheral way, but that is what seems appropriate to me. Walls isn’t black, so she can only give the perspective of a white girl and her black friends, to the extent they tell her their perspective. But, Bean’s friend Vanessa had more dignity, in her small appearances in this book, than the whole of the black maids in The Help. And, good lord, these kids made some excellent points about To Kill a Mockingbird.

This was a lovely novel, and I appreciated all of its purposefulness and structure. This was how you should tell a Social Topics story. I would say I did not enjoy this, in a page-turning way, as much as I enjoyed The Glass Castle, but I did enjoy it, and the end really paid off. I know Walls is not for everyone because, where I experience beauty the most as overcoming and conquering evil, some people experience beauty as finding peace or reinforcing principles, or you name it. But, to me, these were wonderful, human characters. I’ll also say that a lot of things in here were weirdly reminiscent of my college days – from the baby left on the top of the car to the word-playing, to the emus. Just weirdly striking associations that make me look behind me to see if Walls is watching. Hopefully, instead, she is just breaking a path for me because I want to be her when I grow up.