Saturday, October 20, 2012

ARC Review: Keeping Safe the Stars by Sheila O'Connor

Keeping Safe the Stars
Author: Sheila O'Connor
Publication: Putnam Juvenile (October 11, 2012)

Description: When crisis hits, a young girl becomes the only one left to take care of her family

Pride, Nightingale and Baby are the Stars. Orphaned and living with their grandfather, Old Finn, in rural Minnesota, the children, like their grandfather, are wary of outsiders. They believe, as Old Finn taught them, in self-reliance.

But then Old Finn falls seriously ill and is taken to the hospital all the way in Duluth, leaving the children to fend for themselves. Pride, as oldest, assumes the lead. Though she makes mistakes, she keeps them afloat; they even earn money for the bus trip to Duluth. But when they finally see Old Finn, he can't walk or even say his own name, and Pride knows her days of keeping safe the Stars are drawing to a close. Self-reliance can't make Old Finn well again. But maybe, just maybe, a secret from Old Finn's past might make a way for them to stay together after all.

A poignant story about family and love, Sheila O'Connor has delivered another extraordinary and mesmerizing tale.

My Thoughts: Life has been filled with upheavals for the Stars. Their father died of cancer, their mother died in a car accident. The kids were in foster care until the grandfather they didn't really know came to get them out. He took them to his farm in Minnesota to raise. He was something of a hermit; a former history professor who got in trouble with the government for protesting the Vietnam War. He is determined to raise the kids to be independent. But when he falls suddenly ill with encephalitis, the kids are left alone to survive.

The oldest child is Pride. She is thirteen. She is a managing sort of child who is fiercely independent and distrustful. She is sure that she can take care of her younger sister Nightingale and little brother Baby. Nightingale is well-read but shy and only eleven. She got her nickname because of her constant habit of wearing nightgowns and no shoes. Baby is six and is a daredevil. One of his adventures left him with stitches on his chin which requires Pride to take him to the doctor to have them removed. The doctor asks a lot of questions about where a grown-up is and why Baby has so many injuries. Pride fends him off with more lies. 

Because their grandfather was so suspicious, the kids don't have anyone to turn to for help. The nearest neighbor Thor wants to help but Pride is constantly lying to him about the kids being alone. When a freelance journalist comes to their place to take advantage of the pony rides for his daughter, he starts asking lots of questions. Still Pride is determined to be independent and not ask for help. She has been in foster care and doesn't want to let anyone put them there again.

They pin their hopes on earning the money to get to Duluth where Old Finn is in the hospital to find out what he wants them to do. But things don't go exactly as planned and the kids find that they are not as alone as they had thought they were. 

I have read many stories like this before from the Boxcar children to Homecoming by Cynthia Voight. The Northern Minnesota setting near my childhood home - Duluth - and the time period - Nixon's resignation - made this one different. I liked the caring that was evident between the children but I was sad for them that they were so alone. 

Fans of historical fiction and stories of independent children will like this one. 

Favorite Quote:
"But I know what he wants," I said. "He wants us independent." I wasn't sure Old Finn could print out a word that big or say it when he couldn't spit out Justine.

"Of course," Justine said. "But there's lots of ways of being independent."
I received this ARC from the author. You can buy your copy here.

1 comment:

  1. Great review! Sounds like an emotional read. I'm trying to read scary ones this month, with Halloween, but will keep this one on my radar for the future when I'm in the emotional read mode. And yes, that happens all the time... lol


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