Author: Linda Williams Jackson
Genres: Middle Grade, Historical Fiction
Read: Dec. 2017 (Pub date: Jan. 2, 2018)
I don’t know where to start with this book…
I read the first in the series, Midnight Without a Moon, earlier this year and while I liked it, I thought parts of it were a bit problematic. I think A Sky Full of Stars is a stronger novel than the first book, but I still think it had some issues.
Namely, Ma Pearl. What the hell is wrong with Ma Pearl?! I said this in my review of the first book, but I don’t understand why Jackson decided to write Ma Pearl the way she did. She is a very harsh character and I keep waiting to discover why she is so mean, but Jackson gives us absolutely no justification. As far as I’m concerned Ma Pearl has no redeeming qualities and I think that’s unfair to her character. She literally has no empathy. She doesn’t seem like a psychopath to me, so I really don’t know why she’s so unyielding. Sure, she makes a great antagonist, but she’s also not the main villain of the story (hello white people) and I think showing us a little bit more of her humanity would make such a better character.
But let’s talk about plot, because I thought the plot of this story was stronger than the first book. Midnight Without a Moon takes place in Mississippi in 1955 and focuses on the murder of Emmett Till. Rose is shocked when the white men who murdered Emmett walk free of all charges and is desperate to see change. A Sky Full of Stars focuses on the murders of several other black men in the state for doing things like trying to register to vote, demanding to be paid a fair wage, and for simply making a mistake when pumping a white man’s gas. So basically black people are being shot for daring to exist.
I found the plot structure a bit weak in Midnight Without a Moon, but it is much better defined in A Sky Full of Stars. Rose is disgusted that white people can kill black people without suffering any consequence and decides she wants to do something about it. Everyone has different ideas about the most effective ways to create change and Rose has to figure out where she fits in and how far she’s willing to go to try and ensure a better future for her family. She struggles with turning down her Aunt Belle’s offer to move to St. Louis and is afraid of what the consequences might be of speaking out against inequality.
Similar to the first book, I felt this book had no real climax to the story and it felt like it kind of just ends. I could easily see Jackson writing another book about Rose. Mostly I think she just needs to think more about her characterization. Rose has a great character arc, but the rest of the characters feel 1-dimensional. There’s quite a lot of side characters but I feel like barely any of them had depth. The Shorty-Hallelujah conflict had so much potential, but never really came to a head and as such, didn’t really feel that meaningful. There was so much potential for Queen’s character too, but I don’t think her character developed at all in this book.
I applaud Jackson for tackling some pretty tough subjects in a middle grade book, but honestly, I think this book can go so much deeper. I feel like Jackson is hesitant to get into the dark nitty-gritty of her characters. The character conflicts all feel very surface level and I think if Jackson went deeper into her characters, their fears and desires, this would truly be a fantastic series. Have your characters make mistakes and take risks – they live in a harsh world and sometimes they are going to make bad choices. How they react and grow from those challenges is what makes them inspiring.
Thank you to NetGalley and HMH Books for Young Readers for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.