Monday, November 3, 2008

The Life History of a Star

Although I had a difficult time scouring my younger sister's shelf for the perfect book, I am incredibly glad I finally stumbled upon Kelly Easton's "The Life History of a Star." I remembered reading the book myself when I was younger, but I had no recollection of how essentially feminist it was until I began re-reading it this week. "The Life History of a Star," is narrated by 14 year-old Kristen Folger through a series of journal entries. Set in Glendora, California, in 1973, Kristen not only deals with the personal difficulties of growing up girl, but also with the global issues of the Vietnam War, especially as she mourns the "ghost" who lives in her attic - her closest brother who was severely disabled during his time served under the draft.

By page 4, I was already thrilled with Kristen's keen insight and commentary on growing up girl during this time. In response to her mother's harping about her late development, Kristen writes, "I try to explain the benefit of looking like a boy. Girls are subject to all amounts of attention ... and [have] to put up with sweet remarks from just about everyone" (Easton 4). Similar sentiments are expressed throughout most of her journal, as Kristen desires to be valued for her intellect and ideas rather than something as bane as her looks. As a novel geared for teens, I was delighted with her character, because Kristen is not only a strong girl with self-affirming beliefs, but her hilarity and wit disprove the stereotype that girls who don't desire male attention are boring and lifeless. Her entries are strung together with her unwavering desire to do something more with her life than the women she knows, and her dreams of basing her future around herself rather than someone else.

I've been thinking about being female. We grow up with all kinds of interests, but drop them for the end all, be all - getting married. Then all of our eggs are in one sorry basket. Simon's mother is the only happy grown-up woman I know, and she's an archaeologist... her life seems pretty good to me, and whenever I see her, she seems happy as hell. Because she has many baskets" (Easton 70).

Kristen's views on the world are greatly shaped by the women around her, such as Simon's mother who inspires her to follow her dreams, or her best friend Carol whose new boyfriend Freddie is the perfect example of why boys are of no real importance in her life. Kristen's friend Simon plays an important role in her understanding of her new sexuality - she is saddened and alone after her body begins to develop and Simon can no longer look at her as a friend, but rather a being he claims he physically "needs" to be with. Their relationship provides excellent insight on the complex ties boys and girls begin to form as their sexualities are developing, and the raging hormones and feelings that can often escape their grasp, as Kristen herself finally gives in to Simon's unwavering pleas.

Although there are countless other examples of personal journal entries which instantly won my feminist heart over, the ones which left me the most moved were the entires dealing with "the ghost." Kristen cannot even call her oldest brother by his name, David, until halfway through the novel, and the details of his time spent in Vietnam are absolutely gut-wrenching. Kristen's description of the heartless VA hospitals, the lack of support David felt upon his return to his community, and the independence which he was fighting for yet no longer had in his personal life hurt to read. Kristen's words are a call to action to end war and question the government which would fight such a senseless battle, and I could not be happier that these serious issues are tackled in a teen novel.

There is much in "The Life History of a Star," that, after studying feminist theory, I was able to pick out and dissect while reading. Kristen's reading of Simone de Beauvoir, her constant analysis of the male/female dichotomy, the gender roles of her time, her developing sexuality ... the list goes on. Although there is much to be analyzed from a scholarly perspective, I believe there is even more to gain by reading this book as a girl. Kristen's reassurance that it is ok to be smart, that you don't need a boy to be happy, and that you can make a difference in your own life and the world around you is an extremely important message, and one that is stressed through humor and love in "The Life History of a Star."


Michelle Sewell said...

If you like this story I think you will like the short story "The Lunchbox" by Dinh Vong. It is a heartbreaking story of a young Vietnamese girl trying to fit into elementary school after immigrating to the US. The story appears in the anthology Growing Up Girl: An Anthology of Voices from Marginalized Spaces

j.leigh said...

Thank you for the recommendation, I am definitely going to look that story up! I also just checked out your blog, and GirlChild Press sounds amazing ... thank you for creating spaces where women and girls can speak in a safe environment. They are so important in our everyday consciousness raising!