Jeannette Walls’ new novel
takes on bullies and bravery
By Judi Ketteler
JEANNETTE WALLS HAS always had trouble making things up.
“I’ve always been dazzled by people
whose minds will go places that mine won’t,”
Her latest book, The Silver Star, is
her first work that started as fiction
and solidly belongs in the fiction
genre. But at its heart, it’s inspired by
many different things in Walls’ own
life: things she witnessed, conversa-
tions and even experiences she had
that she wanted to put in The Glass
Castle, but that didn’t quite fit.
Maybe this stitching together of
real and imaginary is what all novelists do, she says. But even though Walls gave
up her celebrity gossip beat a few years back,
she still thinks of herself more as a journalist
than as a novelist. “I’m an observer,” she tells
The Connection from her home in Virginia.
friends. After their mother takes off to “find
herself” for a few months, the sisters decide to
travel cross-country by themselves from
California to small-town Virginia to live with
their mother’s brother.
That’s where they meet Jerry Maddox, a
classic bully and sexual abuser. As the manager of the local mill, he holds the fate of
nearly everyone in his hands—so no one
dares speak out. But when Liz becomes a victim, Bean can’t be silent.
“She doesn’t know the rules of the town,
so she decides to fight,” Walls says. “Bean just
The Costco Connection
The Silver Star, by Jeannette Walls, is available in most Costco locations.
left before she could finish the story, she
remembers a conversation she had with her
editor. “I said, ‘I’m all tied up in knots about
this,’ and my editor said, ‘Then use your confusion to work through it,’ ” Walls says. In part,
The Silver Star is Walls putting her confusion
on the page.
“If I find I have anything to say, I will write it, because I’m not good at keep- ing quiet.”
To fight or not to fight
The Silver Star, set in 1970, follows two
sisters, Bean, 12, and Liz, 15, whose eccentric
mother and pick-up-and-go lifestyle defi-
nitely feel Glass Castle–esque. The girls are
smart, spunky, resourceful and the best of
doesn’t see the gray area. Part of me wanted to
shake her, but the other part just loved her.”
In a way, The Silver Star is one big explo-
ration of bullying and the abuse of power. “I
wanted to show how bullies and abusers
work: how they circle people and test their
resolve and try to chip away at a person’s sense
of what is real,” Walls says.
A new conversation
The response to The Glass Castle
was tremendous—and totally unexpected. One of the things that Walls
loves the most is that the book
seemed to give people permission to
talk about their own childhoods. In
the same way, she hopes The Silver
Star will open up a conversation
about bullying and truth-telling, a
conversation that—unlike Bean—is
not always so black-and-white.
“I’m 52, and I’m still learning
when to fight and when not to fight,”
Walls doesn’t know what’s next
for her, she says: “As soon as I was finished
writing The Silver Star, I said, ‘That’s it! I’m
retiring and never writing anything again!’ ”
But she suspects that if there is another
book in her, it will find her and not let her rest
until she writes it. “If I find I have anything to
say, I will write it,” she says, “because I’m not
good at keeping quiet.” C
JUNE 2013 ;e Costco Connection 77
Judi Ketteler ( www.judiketteler.com) tells
stories for a living, and is the author of Sew
Retro, as well as numerous magazine articles.