THE BLUE STAR picks up the story of Jim Glass from Tony Earley’s bestselling debut novel, JIM THE BOY. It is 1941, and Jim is now a senior in high school. He has fallen deeply, crazily in love with fellow classmate Chrissie Steppe and lives for the moments at school when he has any kind of contact with her. He waits on the school steps each day, looking out over the town of Aliceville, a country panorama in North Carolina, anticipating the arrival of the school bus so he can glimpse her.
From the school's perch high on a hill, Jim can see the houses that he, his mother and three uncles occupy, as well as farm crops in tidy squares and the thick tangle of woods. It’s so peaceful and comforting to Jim, who is old enough to feel nostalgia for his childhood. But Jim's serene life is about to be shaken by both love and war.
In history class, Jim sits behind Chrissie. He pushes his desk up tight to her chair so that her beautiful black hair falls on his desk. He gazes at it and furtively touches it. Although he feels he’s hiding his adoration, schoolmates tease him about it. Jim's ex-girlfriend, Norma, tells him to stay away from Chrissie. Although Norma hints that she's heard things about Chrissie, her main objection appears to be that Chrissie is half Cherokee.
Jim's friends remind him that Chrissie is Bucky Bucklaw's girl and that he can't get involved with her, although (or maybe because) Bucky is in the Navy and far from home. When Jim's buddy Dennis Deane tries out his unsubtle line on her ("Hey. Chrissie Steppe. Kiss me."), she threatens him with bodily harm. Jim steps forward, earning her disapproval that he could be the uncouth Dennis's friend. Her dignity endears her even more to Jim, who offers to give her a ride home from school on a day she’s sick. Although the two come close to acknowledging a growing, tender connection between them during the car trip, Chrissie holds Jim at arm's length. She says that he will soon understand the answer to his question, "Are you Bucky Bucklaw's girlfriend?" without her telling him in words.
When Jim takes Chrissie home, he realizes what a complicated situation he has wandered into. If he were to interfere in her relationship with Bucky, there could be severe repercussions for Chrissie's family. Meanwhile, the imminent threat of war jeopardizes the tranquility of Aliceville's families. Jim knows that his Uncle Zeno once was in love with Chrissie's mother, Nancy. Nancy broke up with Zeno because of his refusal to fight in World War I. What does this mean for Jim?
Jim's life in THE BLUE STAR is relayed simply, yet it gently pulls the reader into his world, which is not simple. We experience his yearning for Chrissie and his love of family, friends and home, but we also feel his fear, hatred, sorrow and guilt. Racial prejudice and tensions enter the tale, along with questions about patriotism and fighting. A bittersweet thread following that rascal Dennis Deane made my throat ache. I found THE BLUE STAR to be an engrossing, emotionally rich and satisfying page-turner. The book stands alone, but anyone reading it will also want to seek out the prequel, JIM THE BOY.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on March 10, 2008
The Blue Star