four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
34-May-June-2008
By: 
Tony Earley
user_rating: 
0

A-The Blue StarIn Jim the Boy (2000), Tony Earley introduced 10-year-old Jim Glass, raised in Depression-era Aliceville, North Carolina, by his widowed mother and three bachelor uncles. In this sequel, set in 1941, Jim Glass, now a high school senior, is navigating life as a young adult when he falls head over heels for classmate Chrissie Steppe. Unfortunately, Chrissie, a half-Cherokee girl, is from the wrong side of the mountain—and already belongs to Bucky Bucklaw, an arrogant, possessive Navy kid stationed in Pearl Harbor. To make matters worse, Chrissie and her mother live as tenants on the Bucklaws’ land. While Jim grapples with Chrissie’s difficult situation, he must decide whether or not to join the army.
Little, Brown. 286 pages. $23.99. ISBN: 0316199079

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"On the surface Earley’s prose seems limpid and plain, but out of his precise observations emerge moments of wonder and enchantment, the sweep of fable. He is not afraid of techniques that to postmodern readers might appear quaint, such as personification, because in the eyes of his romantic hero the Appalachian landscape is truly alive." Porter Shreve

Kansas City Star 4 of 5 Stars
"[Earley] has mastery of what the critic James Wood has called ‘free indirect style,’ meaning he narrates in the third person, altering his prose and point of view ever so slightly to give the appearance of being inside the heads of one character or the next. In this fashion, the novel tells an enormous, emotional story about a boy turning to a man through his own foolish love, without ever falling prey to a teenager’s myopic narcissism." John Freeman

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"It’s such a deceptively simple strategy—to take the unembellished storytelling style of children’s literature and to bend it to adult themes—that many novelists will feel like smacking themselves on the side of the head for not having thought of it themselves. But it is no easy feat, especially to stay inside the hazard lines of sentimentality." Scott Turow

Newsday 4 of 5 Stars
"In gentle prose Earley invites us to mourn the past and remember the beauty of what we have lost. … We have no notion of Jim’s fate—but that’s just fine." Bethany Schneider

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"I’m happy to report that Earley’s The Blue Star works as a sequel and a lovely coming-of-age story that can be savored on its own. … He creates people, old and young, whom you want to know and want to listen to, even when they’re struggling to figure out what they think and feel." Bob Minzesheimer

Christian Science Monitor 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The Blue Star isn’t quite as free from the taint of melodrama as Jim the Boy. … But in the end, Earley delivers a rarity: a good story, told without fuss or flourish, and with the assurance of someone who knows what he’s doing on every page." Yvonne Zipp

Los Angeles Times 3 of 5 Stars
"Plot wise, this is the narrative equivalent of ambling along a country road. Earley keeps things simple, and that means that issues such as teen pregnancy, racism, class and Pearl Harbor are explored slightly but not fully dealt with." Carmela Ciuraru

Critical Summary

When Jim the Boy was published in 2000, a few reviewers dismissed it as retrograde nostalgia. More, however, praised it for its realistic, understated depiction of an earlier way of life. The Blue Star, which neither idealizes nor condemns this past world, is a worthy sequel—a sort of children’s book for adults. The New York Times Book Review even suggested that its appeal may have to do with 9/11, after which "Americans [showed] an appetite for simple tales told with becoming directness." Certainly, The Blue Star contains no postmodern flourishes; nor does it delve very deeply into its complex themes of class, sex, race, and patriotism. Still, Tony Earley, an English professor at Vanderbilt University, adeptly captures character, landscape, and emotion in seemingly simple, alluring prose. Critics noted a few sappy scenes, but The Blue Star succeeds, overall, as a sensitive coming-of-age story. And with Jim’s adult fate undetermined, readers can look forward to seeing more of him.