A Sky Full of Stars

 

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5
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.

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Midnight Without a Moon

 

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Author: Linda Williams Jackson
Genres: Middle Grade, Historical Fiction
Read: Oct. 2017

 

I wanted to love this, but Midnight Without a Moon fell a bit flat for me. This is definitely a good debut novel for Linda Williams Jackson, I just think she needs to hone her writing skills.

Midnight Without a Moon is a middle grade book set in Mississippi in 1955. It’s a coming of age story featuring 13-year old Rose Lee Carter who is struggling to find her place in the world and justify the atrocities that are happening around her. Black people have been granted the right to vote and want to register, but of course, white people are having none of it and tensions in Rose’s town start to escalate. Rose desperately wants to go to college and make something of herself, but she believes the only way to do that is to get out of Mississippi. When young Emmett Till is brutally murdered and the NAACP shows up to advocate for justice, Rose begins to realize that maybe she’s needed right where she is.

I thought the premise of the book was great – good setting, good subject matter – but I felt it was poorly executed. I found parts of the novel dragged and had a hard time getting into it. The pacing of the plot was really off for me. I thought the main plot of this story was about Emmett Till and the sparking of the civil rights movement in Mississippi, but Jackson kept veering off into side stories. I thought the verdict of the trail would be the climax of the story, but it was very anti-climactic and Jackson kind of glazed over it in a way that made me feel it was no longer integral to the plot. It left me feeling unsure what Jackson’s goal was in retelling this historical event.

Don’t get me wrong, I love side stories and sub-plots between characters and I did love a lot of the side plots in this novel, but they all felt poorly executed and chunky, and they didn’t flow naturally. The ending didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the novel at all and I was super confused when Jackson spent the last 10% of the book talking about religion. I found it interesting to learn about and I think it could still have been included in the novel, it was just in totally the wrong place and it made all of Rose’s epiphanies and reflections seem really forced. I just found the whole “stars shine brighter in the darkness” and “midnight without a moon” references very cheesy and cliche. I know it’s a middle grade novel, but again, it’s not that these points shouldn’t have been in the story, they just flowed very poorly.

I think the strongest part of this novel was the characters. I liked Rose; her drive and ambition. I thought the side story with Queen was interesting, as well as Rose’s relationship with Hallelujah. I was fascinated with Ma Pearl, but I need more information about her background!! I thought she was a great antagonist and all her fears about getting kicked off the Robinson’s land were totally valid, but boy she was harsh. She had really no redeeming qualities and I thought that was unfair. I want to know more about her history and how she has become so jaded. I feel like she was too one-dimensional and I’d like to see other sides of her character. Actually, I feel the same way about Queen. I need more perspective for both of these characters.

Ultimately this is a book about growing up and being introduced to the inequities of life. I do think Rose was a wonderful female role model for middle graders as she has this deep desire to be educated. At first her desire to go to college is just about getting out of Mississippi and gaining wealth and it is heartbreaking when she is pulled out of school, but I like that her desires gradually changed and became more about a better life for black people, not just herself (not that its not okay to want a better life just for yourself).

In conclusion, I don’t regret reading this, I think Jackson has a lot of potential and it’s great to see these kinds of stories and themes being explored in middle grade novels (especially when they’re actually written by people of colour, instead of the whole white saviour narrative). Reviewing 3 star books is always a challenge because it’s tough to convey that I liked the book, but at the same time thought it could have been better. This book is getting a sequel, so I’m hopeful to see some of these issues and character development addressed in the next book!