on 2 September 2012
LIGHT FROM A DISTANT STAR by Mary McGarry Morris is written from the point of view of thirteen year old Nellie Peck a girl whose insight and emotional maturity belies her chronological age. While Nellie's eyesight is faulty, her intuitive ability to discern the true nature of a situation and grasp the real motivation behind the actions of others is spot on.
All is not well at the Peck home. The family hardware store is failing due to dad Benjamin's disinterest, mom has been forced to take a job outside the home, older sister Ruth has other things on her mind, Grandpa is a nasty old codger who runs a junkyard and Nellie who is increasingly ignored and/or ridiculed by various family members has become the "baby-sitter by default" for her younger brother Henry.
The only relief from her misery that Nellie seems to receive comes from Max Devaney, her grandfather's handyman, his dog Boone and Dolly Bedalia, a stripper who rents a small apartment on the Peck property. These are the people who listen and take an interest in what she has to say, plus she can readily relate to them, possibly because all are outcasts of sorts, either ignored or ill-used by society.
Nellie's angst is almost palpable when she wrestles with the question of loyalty to family versus doing what is right after some unusual circumstances and pure chance converge resulting in her involvement in a murder trial. The how's and why's, of Nellie's dilemma are the foundation on which this story is constructed so I will not ruin your joy of discovery by divulging any further details.
While others have compared this book's character Nellie to Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird, for me she is more Flavia de Luce, wise beyond her years, unable to relate to her siblings and unwillingly drawn into a murder scenerio. As for the Morris's tale of the dysfunctional Peck family, for this reader, it has a Southern Gothic vibe and could almost be described as Faulkner-esque (is that a word) in nature.
I suppose that when all is said and done impressions, feelings and relatability is what reading is all about. It's the impression each individual reader gets from a book, how they relate to the characters and their feelings about the message being conveyed that they take away. There are many messages in DISTANT STAR not the least of which is that there are occasions when "a little child shall lead them".