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by Katherine Paterson
Harper Trophy, 2004
Review by Su Terry on Aug 24th 2004

The Same Stuff as Stars

            The Same Stuff as Stars by Katherine Patterson is an award wining novel for young people. It is the co-winner of the Paterson Prize, an Honor Book for The Red Mitten, the Judy Lopez Memorial, and the Jane Addams Awards. It is an interesting and quirky novel about a young girl abandoned by her mother and forced by circumstances into the role of mother for her unruly younger brother and housebound great-grandmother.

            The Same Stuff as Stars is set in contemporary Vermont. The deck of life is stacked against eleven-year old Angel Morgan. Her father, Wayne, is in prison for robbery. Her mother, Verna, is immature, self-centered, and very unreliable. Her seven-year old brother, Bernie Elvis, is an undisciplined bundle of energy, and handful of trouble. When Verna decides she has had enough - enough of prison visits, enough of children, enough of poverty, and enough of loneliness - she hangs her hat on the next available man. The only catch is that he does not want children. Verna tries to hide her plans from Angel and Bernie under the guise of a quick visit to the country and Wayne's great-grandmother. Angel, however, has experienced too many disappointments from Verna to trust her promises. First Verna did not pack a suitcase, second she did not make up her bed for the night, and third as soon as it was dark, she made a beeline for her truck disappearing down the driveway without so much as a "tootles". Angel was convinced when called the apartment only to discover the number had been disconnected. So much for Verna's promises! Angel soon learns her grandmother, while a good woman, is hardly capable of caring for herself let alone two children. Once more Angel finds herself in-charge. She also soon discovers her new home is quite old fashioned. It lacks most of the modern conveniences she is used to using, but she knows she must manage. As days turn into weeks then months, Angel learns to walk to town for groceries, cook on a single burner, provide heat with a wood stove, and feed three on a social security check meant for one. She also works the system to register her brother and herself for school. This would have proved too daunting if it were not for the inspiration of "the starman" and his telescope, and the help and support of the aged town librarian, Miss Liza. The Morgans - children and great-grandma - might have slipped quietly into the sleepy world of a Vermont winter if not for the vulture-like return of Verna who swooped down and carried off Bernie. This event would prove too much for the already fragile family and spark more than just questions about one missing child.

            The Same Stuff as Stars is well written novel. It offers both joy and laughter to an unfortunately all too sad tale of immature parents and an overly mature child. This is a role reversal seen often in troubled homes. The resilience in such children is amazing. Yet the cost of forfeiting the joys of childhood for the drudgery of adulthood to the child must be a devastating personal loss. Angel is wonderfully portrayed as the child forced to grow up to soon. Bernie is equally well drawn as the spoilt child that readers will want to at once throttle and hug. (He desperately needs both!) Miss. Liza is a bit stereotypical as the aging spinster librarian and the "starman" was neither scary nor frightening. This is above and beyond the fact that "grandma" tried to easy the children's fears by calling him "Santy Claus." His secret was actually quite easy to guess. The story does merits telling. I must also commend the author on having the characters reading real books in the novel and including information for a young reader to locate them. It might inspire a few of them to "reach for the stars". (Bravo!)

Katherine Patterson is an award winning author of children's and young adult novels. She was born the daughter of missionary parents in China. She was educated in the US receiving a MA in Education from the Presbyterian School of Christian Education and another Masters degree from Union Theological Seminary. Her award winning books include, The Master Puppeteer (1976, National Book Award); Bridge to Terabithia (1977, Newbery Award); The Great Gilly Hopkins (1978, National Book Award, Newbery Honor Book); Jacob Have I Loved (1980, Newbery Award); Lyddie (1991, Honor List of the International Board of Books for Young People); Flip-Flop Girl (1994, ALA Notable Book,  School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, Parent's Choice Story Book, and a New York Times Notable Book); Jip, His Story (1997 Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction, ALA Notable Book, and Best Book for Young Adults); and Preacher's Boy (1999 Jefferson Cup from the Virginia Library Association). Her most recent works include The Wide Awake Princess (2000); Invisible Child; (2001) and The Same Stuff as Stars (2002). She has retired as a minister and missionary, and lives in Vermont. Her official website is http://www.terabithia.com/
            
The Same Stuff as Stars by Katherine Patterson is an award winning novel. It will make the reader want to laugh and cry. The book is recommended for ages 10 years and up. The book is highly recommended.

© 2004 Su Terry

 Su Terry: Education: B.A. in History from Sacred Heart University, M.L.S. in Library Science from Southern Connecticut State College, M.R.S. in Religious Studies/Pastoral Counseling from Fairfield University, a M.Div. in Professional Ministry from New Brunswick Theological Seminary, a Certificate in Spirituality/Spiritual Direction from Sacred Heart University. She is a Licensed Minister of the United Church of Christ and an Assistant Professor in Library Science at Dowling College, Long Island, NY.