Grades 6 - 9 / Ages 11 - 14.
Just over from the fire was a pile of wood, cut up into fire-sized pieces.In Stars Eric Walters explores the same territory as he does in his earlier novel for teens Stand Your Ground. In both, he portrays two basically good kids who have been dealt a rough hand in the game of life. Fourteen-year-old Joseph is the street-smart, wise-cracking protagonist of Stars. His father is an abusive alcoholic, his mother deserted them both, and his best friend is Jonnie Campbell, a gangster who encourages Joseph to steal expensive cars.
I took two chunks and tossed them on the fire. Sparks and ashes burst out and floated up into the sky. I watched them drift upward into the heavens.
I shook my head in amazement at all those stars, like little embers that had escaped from earlier fires. I thought of something that the psychologist guy had said to me at the hospital. He said that after a trauma, after coming close to dying, you looked at things through new eyes.
I didn t think I was looking with new eyes, but I knew I was looking at a new world.
Eric Walters has had first-hand experience dealing with troubled teens. He is an elementary school teacher and has also worked as a family therapist and a social worker.
While Joseph is in the hospital recovering from injuries sustained in a high speed car chase, he meets Gord, a kindly and dedicated social worker who recruits him for a program called Stars (Striving Through Adventure to Develop Responsibility and Success). Together, with a group of boys facing similar problems, Joseph reluctantly joins the Stars program, where he learns about the wilderness, about survival and about himself.
This is a conventional novel about a teen coping with problems. Joseph is an appealing narrator; sensitive and quick-witted, but his rehabilitation is formulaic. His cynicism and hard edges gradually and predictably give way as he confronts and overcomes the challenges of the landscape, and learns to rely on others. Another detractor is the under-developed cast of supporting characters. Joseph's father is inexorably bad. Gord, Stan, and Maureen are uncompromisingly good - their prime motivation seems only to be the rehabilitation of their young charges. The other boys in the group, with the exception of Kevin, are not fully drawn. We don't discover much about their backgrounds, or what will happen to them after their six weeks in the bush.
Surprisingly, the sometimes weak characterization does not inhibit the fast-paced and exhilarating plot. When it relinquishes its didactic tone, Stars is a well-written and appealing adventure story.
Jennifer Sullivan has a Master's degree in English Literature and works for the Canadian Children's Literature Service in the National Library of Canada.
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