James Crowley (J Fiction)
Orphaned at a young age, nine-year-old Lionel and his older sister Beatrice have lived at the Chalk Bluff boarding school on the Blackfeet Indian reservation for six years. Beatrice defiantly holds on to the traditions of her people, which causes growing tensions between her, the priests, and the officers who live in the nearby military outpost. When Beatrice is finally pushed to the brink, she steals the captain’s prized horse and escapes with Lionel into the wilderness in search of their grandfather. Grandfather will know how to help them, but first they must survive the harshness of the Montana winter.
James Crowley’s Starfish is packed with action and adventure and provides readers with a powerful female protagonist who is fearless, principled, and wise beyond her twelve years. The writing is detailed and the chapters are short, which add to the tale’s rapid and charged pace. Readers share in Beatrice and Lionel’s struggle to survive the elements and hunger; cheer their ability to outrun and outwit bounty hunters (they are understandably considered horse thieves); and support their loyalty to their customs and beliefs. Crowley creates a suspenseful story through wonderful storytelling that is a love letter to nature and Native American culture. Although the novel is littered with mild profanity (it’s nothing that younger audiences wouldn’t hear in a standard Marvel movie) and contains a few instances of violence, these shouldn’t discourage the targeted age range of 8-12 from reading it.
I loved the insights into Blackfeet tradition and I’m a total pushover for stories that highlight strong sibling relationships; however, the only thing that held back a five-star rating was the ending. It felt abrupt and awkward and didn’t match the same feel and flow of the rest of the book. I am not one that demands a happy ending in order to fully enjoy a story, but I do need an ending that is thoughtful and provides adequate closure. Because Crowley spent so much time and care giving readers such a well-developed story, it felt as if he ran out of steam at the end.
I find that with nearly every book, the last few pages will either make or break a story for me and in this case, those last pages of Starfish just felt incomplete and hollow. Unlike the ravens and eagle that soared high in the Montana sky, this story doesn’t reach the heights that I hoped it would, but it still manages to lift the spirits and take us on an unforgettable journey.
* Book cover image attributed to www.goodreads.com