Author: T. Greenwood
Genres: Historical Fiction, True Crime
Pub Date: Aug. 7th, 2018 (read July 2018)
Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
I got an ARC of Rust & Stardust a while ago, but I was never really in the mood to read it, so I kept postponing. But I finally started it last week and totally powered through it in 3 days.
As is my style, I knew very little about this book going in, except that it was about the true crime that inspired Nabokov’s classic, Lolita. Disclaimer: I haven’t read Lolita, so I’m not really sure what intrigued me so much about this one, but I’m glad I requested it because it was a really interesting fictional account, based on the true kidnapping of 11 year old Sally Horner.
Rust & Stardust features a series of narrators from Sally’s family and from individuals that crossed paths with Sally during her kidnapping, but it is predominantly narrated by Sally herself. I don’t often like child narrators that much, but I thought Sally’s voice in this book, and Greenwood’s style of writing, we’re perfect for this time setting and plot. Sally reads a copy of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn throughout this story (one of my personal favourite books), and I thought that the writing and narration style were very similar to Betty Smith’s classic and I thought it was such a fitting comparison to have Sally relate to Francie’s experience.
For some context, this story starts when Sally gets caught trying to shoplift a notebook by Mr. Warner, a customer in the store. However, he convinces Sally that he actually works for the FBI and that she is in big trouble for trying to steal. He essentially blackmails her into coming to Atlantic City with him so that she can clear her name before a judge and convinces her she needs to keep this shame secret from her mother and sister.
What follows is 2 years of captivity for Sally at the hands of the perverted Mr. Warner (Frank La Salle in real life). While her family is desperate to find her and slowly starts to fall apart in her absence, Sally is coming of age in extremely horrifying and abusive circumstances. Her kidnapping is pretty horrifying, but I appreciated the author for not being overly graphic in her descriptions. I thought the author totally nailed Sally’s voice. As the reader, you just want to rage at Mr. Warner, but you can also understand Sally’s confusion at the turn of events, her inner guilt and shame at what she’s done and what’s been done to her, and how her thoughts get so turned around by Mr. Warner’s constant gaslighting.
In reality, almost all of this story is fabricated, but the bones of the novel are based on true events. It is mostly unknown what actually happened between Sally and Frank La Salle during the 2 years of her captivity, but Greenwood has appropriately conveyed how evil Frank La Salle is (even if some of the events are fabricated). He was a character that made me so mad, mostly because of how he mentally abuses and gaslights Sally throughout the entirety of the book. He is so manipulative and aside from physically abusing her, he really gets inside her head and makes her question everything about her family and the world. It was so heartbreaking to watch a young girl have to come of age (something that can be traumatizing enough for an 11 year old) without her mother and sister for support.
There’s also a whole side story going on with Sally’s mother, Ella, and her sister and husband, Susan and Al. I didn’t find the side plot as compelling as Sally’s story, but it did add an interesting dimension to the story.
Mostly I just liked that I learned something new from this book, and my enjoyment was greatly aided by Sally’s voice in this novel. I thought the writing fit the time period perfectly. I felt like I had been transported to 1950 and even though I thought the writing was told in a slightly detached kind of way, it conveyed so well Sally’s horror and confusion and how a single event can compound and become unimaginably bad and seemingly insurmountable without proper emotional support.
A good (but upsetting) read, I liked this a lot more than anticipated.