When many authors begin a story, they have a good idea of what category it might fall into: it could be a book about a close-knit family like The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, or it could be about a teen navigating a new life like Hattie Ever After. But what if you want to do both?
As I began to write The Star That Always Stays, I knew that I wanted this story to be an homage to classic girls’ literature, and I was thinking about the books that came before me that I wished to emulate. I thought of standards like Little Women and Anne of Green Gables, and I thought of lesser-known but still beloved books like the Betsy-Tacy series and even stories like Elizabeth Enright’s Melendy Quartet or Jeanne Birdsall’s The Penderwicks, which are contemporary classics with the same feel. Eventually I decided I wanted my book to meld the style of the Melendys and LM Montgomery’s novels featuring Anne Shirley or Jane of Lantern Hill.
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But then I had to ask myself: How does one achieve that harmonious blend? It’s relatively rare, at least among the children’s books I have read and loved. You have to be willing to blend the family story (The Saturdays or Ballet Shoes or Half Magic) with the coming-of-age story (Anne of Green Gables or A Girl of the Limberlost). But I wondered how to approach that without making the storylines feel disconnected or at odds with each other? How could the two sides of the story complement each other instead of serving as a distraction?
I had to be willing to let them intertwine! The main plot of The Star That Always Stays revolves around my main character Norvia as she adjusts to her new stepfamily. But another main plot point showcases her struggles to fit in as a newly-minted high school freshman—particularly as she tries to enter a clique of popular girls. Not to go too far into spoilers, the events of a certain Halloween party and a Valentine’s Dance both involve Norvia’s school friends and are pivotal points of the story. But they also had to be opportunities to further the storylines that were happening within Norvia’s family, and that was the part that proved challenging at first—but in the end, it was immensely rewarding. This blend is something that I hope will end up resonating with lots of readers, who are perhaps looking for books with subplots that aren’t so neatly compartmentalized.
This melding is achieved incredibly well in Little Women. Generations of readers have enjoyed those cozy scenes of four sisters gathered by the fire or around the piano—and they’ve also rejoiced at Meg’s wedding and wept over Laurie’s rejected proposal. Little Women is also able to show the important moments within the March family and also the events that springboard the girls’ lives outside Orchard House, creating a story with a wide (and realistic) range of happenings.
Traditionally, many heroines of classic children’s novels lack siblings (A Little Princess or The Secret Garden come to mind, as well as Anne and Pollyanna). I wanted my heroine to have a big family with plenty of siblings, but I didn’t want her family to be merely a backdrop; characters who say a few lines as she returns from school but never partake in the story in any greater way. What’s more, I wanted my heroine to have wonderful sibling relationships—I wanted them to truly care about each other and not argue constantly. Essentially, I wanted the siblings to feel like real people instead of plot devices.
But in the midst of focusing on my main character’s family, I didn’t want to sacrifice the things that make other longtime favorite girls’ books so vivid and real. Like books by Maud Hart Lovelace and Beverly Cleary, I wanted a heroine who is undeniably the star of her story, a heroine who falls in love, attempts to be popular at school, and who decides at the end of the day that she’d rather just be herself, fully embracing her heritage and her newfound life. I felt that it would be lovely to have a book where she could do all those things and enjoy her role in the family. This was one of the reasons that I strongly felt that my heroine needed to be fourteen years old instead of younger, like the majority of middle grade characters. That way, I was able to really incorporate that balance in what I hope is a fun and accurate way.
And so I came to the conclusion that in The Star That Always Stays, I would need to find a careful balance of the Melendys and Anne Shirley to create that elusive atmosphere of the Marches, a world where family and self-discovery can go hand in hand. It’s a world where the heroine always has a family rooting for her and a home to fall back on—a world that I hope young readers enjoy visiting!
Meet the author
Storytelling has always been a part of Anna Rose Johnson’s life—especially timeless tales tinged with vintage charm. She grew up fascinated by the early 20th century and now writes historical middle grade novels that reflect her love of classic children’s literature. A member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, Anna Rose enjoys exploring her heritage through her stories, including her forthcoming middle grade novel The Star That Always Stays. Anna Rose lives on a farm in northern Wisconsin, and you can visit her bookish blog at: http://annarosejohnson.com/blog/.
About The Star That Always Stays
When bright and spirited Norvia moves from the country to the city, she has to live by one new rule: Never let anyone know you’re Ojibwe.
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Growing up on Beaver Island, Grand-père told Norvia stories—stories about her ancestor Migizi, about Biboonke-o-nini the Wintermaker, about the Crane Clan and the Reindeer Clan. He sang her songs in the old language, and her grandmothers taught her to make story quilts and maple candy. On the island, Norvia was proud of her Ojibwe heritage.
Things are different in the city. Here, Norvia’s mother forces her to pretend she’s not Native at all—even to Mr. Ward, Ma’s new husband, and to Vernon, Norvia’s irritating new stepbrother. In fact, there are a lot of changes in the city: ten-cent movies, gleaming soda shops, speedy automobiles, ninth grade. It’s dizzying for a girl who grew up on the forested shores of Lake Michigan.
Despite the move, the upheaval, and the looming threat of world war, Norvia and her siblings—all five of them—are determined to make 1914 their best year ever. Norvia is certain that her future depends upon it… and upon her discretion.
But how can she have the best year ever if she has to hide who she truly is?
Sensitive, enthralling, and classic in sensibility (perfect for Anne of Green Gables fans), this tender coming-of-age story about an introspective and brilliant Native American heroine thoughtfully addresses assimilation, racism, and divorce, as well as everygirl problems like first crushes, making friends, and the joys and pains of a blended family. Often funny, often heartbreaking, The Star That Always Stays is a fresh and vivid story directly inspired by Anna Rose Johnson’s family history.
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 07/12/2022
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years
Filed under: Guest Post