Friday, December 31, 2021

When the Stars Go Dark

  When the Stars Go Dark
Author:  Paula McLain
Publication Information:  Ballantine Books. 2021. 384 pages.
ISBN:  0593237897 / 978-0593237892

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The mother who tore off her dress when the  police came to her house with the news and then ran down the street in only her shoes, while her neighbors, even the ones who knew her well, hid behind their doors and windows, afraid of her grief."

Favorite Quote:  "For the longest time, I stand on Lansing Street thinking about beauty and terror. Evil. Grace. Suffering. Joy. How they're all here every day, everywhere. Teaching us how to keep stepping forward into our lives, our purpose. Long ago Corolla told me that it's not what happens to us that matters most, but how can learn to carry it. I'm starting to understand the difference, and how maybe the only way we can survive what's here, and what we are, is together."

The author's note for this book points out. "Every 73 seconds someone in America becomes the victim of sexual assault. Every nine minutes one of those victims is a child. 82% of victims under the age of eighteen are female." These are mind boggling statistics.

Within this statistic, the book weaves in the actual history of Polly Klaas. In 1993, twelve year old Polly Hannah Klaas was kidnapped from her home during a sleepover. The search for Polly lasted almost two months. During this time, the information about her disappearance was shared far and wide, with thousands of people at a grassroots level involved in the search for Polly. Sadly, only her body was found. She had been strangled. I don't know if Polly's family gave permission for the inclusion of her case in this book or if the information used is public record. I would hope that it would not hurt them in any way and perhaps even bring peace that their daughter is remembered and that talking about her may save someone else. I, for one, would not know about Polly Klaas except for this book.

Within these statistics and this historic case, the book builds the fictional story of a missing teenager in Mendocino and that of detective Anna Hart. Anna Hart is a product of the foster care system. A fortunate placement with a couple in Mendocino brought love and a home, but she has not been back for years. She is passionate about her work as a police detective, often working with the most fragile of victims. Trauma in her adult life brings her "home" again. News of a missing teenage forces her to get involved. That sets her on the trail of a kidnapper but also brings her fact to face again with the traumas of her own past.

To me, this book is not really about the suspense of who the kidnapper is. I do guess that relatively early on simply because there are not that many characters in the book. To me, this book is also not really about the life Anna is running from - her husband and her child. I do wish more had been explained about those relationships.

To me, this book is about the damaged, flawed characters all dealing with the traumas of their past. It is about the emotional and psychological impact of childhood traumas. It is about bringing attention to the so very important issue of abuse and violence against women, particularly against children. The book is dark - by title, by subject matter, and by tone. However, it ends on a note of hope and light in some ways. It brings the statistics to life in a tragic, visual way that I will remember for a long while.

The author's note comes at the end of this book. I am very curious as this book is such a departure from the historical fiction I have read so far from the author, and I want to understand from what the story emanates. This is certainly not what I expect. "Writing a novel is such an interesting mix of effort and surrender, of control and vulnerability. It wasn't until late in the stages of drafting that it fully dawned on me just why I was so drawn to tell this articular story and not any other. My troubled detective, Anna Hart, is obsessed with trauma and healing, with intimate violence and the complex hidden connection between victims and predators, because I'm obsessed with those things, and long have been. I've given her other parts of me too - a version of my childhood spent in foster care, and my abiding love of the natural world as deep medicine. What Anna knows and thinks about the hidden scars of sexual abuse, I know as a sexual abuse survivor." Wow. Just wow.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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