Book Reviews

Stars Of Alabama by Sean Dietrich

Released: July 2019
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Pages: 352 wonderful pages
Rating: 5/5

A breathtaking story of the twists and turns in life and the people you meet along the way who change your world forever.

The synopsis provided by the publisher says it all:

When fifteen-year-old Marigold becomes pregnant amid the Great Depression, she is rejected by her family and forced to fend for herself. Then when she loses her baby in the forest, her whole world turns upside down. She’s even more distraught upon discovering she has an inexplicable power that makes her both beautiful and terrifying—and something of a local legend.

Meanwhile, migrant workers Vern and Paul discover a violet-eyed baby and take it upon themselves to care for her. The men soon pair up with a widow and her two children, and the misfit family finds its way in fits and starts toward taking care of each other.

As survival brings one family together, a young boy finds himself with nary a friend to his name as the dust storms rage across Kansas. Fourteen-year-old Coot, a child preacher with a prodigy’s memory, is on the run with thousands of stolen dollars—and the only thing he’s sure of is that Mobile, Alabama is his destination.

As the years pass and a world war looms, these stories intertwine in surprising ways, reminding us that when the dust clears we can still see the stars.

Every once in awhile a book comes along that moves you down to your soul. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does you know that story will stay with you for a lifetime. Covering the trials of living in the rural South during the early 20th century, Sean Dietrich has written a mesmerizing and lyrical tale about the lives of several seemingly unconnected people. Each chapter bounces between the varying storylines before coming to its beautiful and dramatic conclusion.

The descriptions were atmospheric and often heart wrenching, especially when describing the bleakness of the Dustbowl:

“Coot had never seen the sea. All he’d ever known were dry fields, water shortages, hacking dust-coughs, malnourished cattle, and poverty. And storm clouds that were made entirely of dirt. Storms so black they shut out the sun and only left a lightless hell behind them.”

“They drank the dust, ate the dust. The dust suffocated their children and wilted their food.”

“Childsized caskets were common in this world. Dust pneumonia was killing kids, animals, and old people.”

It was a dark, horrible time when we meet all the characters in Stars of Alabama, most of them on the brink of starvation. Yet they all kept going, kept moving, kept trying to stay alive. As they clung to survival, their paths merged with others along the way who were also trying to get by in such a miserable world. The bonds they formed not only kept them afloat but gave them hope.

Whilst everyone in this strongly character driven book was utterly delightful, it was really the relationship between the makeshift family of Paul, Vern, their dogs, and their adopted kids that moved me the most. Following their lives through the decades filled my heart nearly to the bursting point. Sometimes when you think things couldn’t get any harder or ever change, a chance meeting completely upends and shifts the direction of your life so much for the better, giving you a purpose you never would have dreamed of.

Because there were so many characters and so many plots to follow, the book shifted among their perspectives quite a bit. It was only 352 pages but had 100 chapters so you get an idea of how short most the chapters were. It was a little jarring at first to keep having chapters cut off so soon after starting, but after awhile I became used to it. Plus I was never upset at having to read a different storyline because I was that invested in all of the characters. The ending could have been a bit longer, though, because we spent all that time travelling all that way to get there so I think the reader deserved a little bit more closure.

Honestly, I loved this book so “dadgum” much that the only thing I can really fault it for is for actually ending because of how attached I became to the characters. I would happily read sequels, prequels, or even just stories about Paul and Vern’s lives before finding Ruth. Same with old Joseph– I’d love to learn more about the life of that cantankerous man before meeting Coot on the rails. How I loved the bond between those two men!

Once I began reading this powerful story I couldn’t put it down. I simply fell into the pages, swept up in its beautiful rhythm. That is, until I had to force myself to stop for a few days because I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to all these wonderful characters yet.

This was my first time reading anything by Sean Dietrich, but I’ll be keeping my eye on him because The Stars of Alabama has instantly become one of my favourite reads of 2019. Thank you so much to the author and the publisher for putting this marvelous book out into the world.

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