Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Not In Our Stars: Lost Stars by Lisa Selin Davis

I looked toward the darkening sky. I watched as the moon and sun collided, a black spot surrounded by a thin band of fire, and in that magical instant I could feel Ginny around me. Matter is always matter. Every molecule that made up her person was still here, or at least in our galaxy.... Nothing mattered here on Earth. Nothing mattered but the stars, my real friends, the source of all life.

In that moment, that seven minutes and thirty one seconds of eclipse, I felt completely at peace. There was no life or death, and Ginny had never existed and always would. All the answers were in the stars, and I loved them as much as I'd ever loved anyone.

When the family's golden girl, her older sister Ginny, died in a drunken crash in her junior year, Carrie's family falls apart. Little sister Rosie becomes the perfect little sister, her mother flees to a semi-Buddhist "retreat for lost souls," as Carrie puts it, and her father goes autocratic, trying to crack down on Carrie, hoping to save her from Ginny's fate.

Carrie's only lifelines are her love for astronomy and her sister's older friends, just graduated and spending their last summer at home before college trying to pack as much booze and drugs and thoughtless sex as they can into their last days as teenagers. Carrie knows she doesn't really fit in, that they accept her out of loyalty to her dead sister, but she clings to those nights in Soo's basement with music and drinking to dull her grief and secret responsibility for her sister's death, and she numbs her emotions by relentlessly calculating the progress of Comet 11P/A Alexandrov, making its appearance in its 97-year cycle at the end of the summer.

And then two people come in to her life. Tonya was a friend from freshman year, before Ginny died. Her dad has enrolled Carrie in what she considers boot camp for bad teens, a community work camp constructing a footbridge to the town observatory, and Tonya, grown into a no-nonsense straw-boss type, tries to shape Carrie up, to teach her how to pull weeds, use a shovel and hammer, and be a responsible person.

The other new person is Dean. For reasons unspoken, he is staying for the summer with his aunt next door, and the sound of his guitar draws Carrie to him, first in conversations about music, and then deeper and deeper into friendship and the beginning of her first real feelings for a boy. Somehow, Dean seems to understand her fear of getting close to anyone, and when Comet Vira becomes visible over the horizon, something inside of Carrie begins to change. She takes heart in knowing that the light of those already dead "lost stars" keeps coming toward earth, eons after their death.

"Eventually every star will explode. There's no getting around it," I said.

"Look," Dean said, "we're all going to die or a black hole will swallow us. But it might be tens of thousands of years, millions, before then. Or, as that book you like says, 'billions.'"

"Billions," I said.

"Nobody in the whole universe knows how things will end," Dean said.

Lisa Selin Davis' forthcoming Lost Stars (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016) is a young adult novel that catches its character at a point of celestial transit, a moment when nothing and yet everything changes. She sees her parents as planets in their own orbits and yet subject to the same pull from the stars that she feels, and she sees her own path through time in a different light. Like her comet, Carrie realizes that she has her own path to follow, not one set in the stars.

Playing out against the background music of the 1980s, this honest but hopeful novel deals without apology with the time in which drugs disrupted families and brought young people to face deaths of their own doing, a time like all times when they must find their own stars to steer by, but find they don't have to do it alone.

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