Oh My Stars by Lorna Landvik
Reviewed by Kristy Kiernan
Disclaimer: I’ve met Ms. Landvik, and she’s been kind enough to say she would read CATCHING GENIUS. She is funny, and pretty, and sweet, and I swear I’m not just sucking up.
Oh My Starsis a surprise. Always, in every chapter, this book is not what I thought it would be. (What did I think it would be? I thought it would be…sweet. Funny, touching, maybe slightly *wink wink* racy, but definitely sweet. Why? Who knows? Why did I think Anna Karenina was about a hunchbacked Hungarian peasant-girl who, against all odds, finds love with a British spy? See? You really can’t trust your first instinct AT ALL.) The first surprise came with a violent arm-amputation, told with such matter-of-fact grace that you are on guard for the next swing from that moment on. And Lanvik swings for the surprise fence with admirable regularity.
Violet Mathers is rather pathetic. She’s the girl we, as adults, feel sorry about teasing when we were children. She is unloved. And she is fearless. And she is someone I wish I knew, because she is utterly without guile. She is a gifted clothing designer, a savvy business manager, a wit and a passion-filled woman, and yet she’s barely cognizant of it, and we are amazed as we follow her journey into discovering these things about herself. Do we ever believe that we are truly good, truly gifted, or do we all think we’re frauds?
Beautiful and charismatic Kjel (pronounced “shell”) is truly good, and a truly gifted singer, and he sees potential in Violet. Yet Kjel tends to see potential in everyone. Is he right in this case? Traveling the country in the 1930’s with a bi-racial band, The Pearltones, with Kjel as lead singer and guitar player, and brothers Dallas and Austin, both black and gifted guitar players, we all, including Violet herself, find out if Kjel’s faith proves warranted.
There is fun aplenty on the road; swinging music scenes, barroom brawls, and sweet, short love affairs. But there is heartbreak too, in the form of racism, sexism, and unrequited love. These literary twins–joy and heartbreak–are right at home in Oh My Stars, and I am not ashamed to say that I cried, but am pleased to report that my tears weren’t wrung cheaply by Landvik, they were earned, and she earns my loyal following for that fact alone.
Writer’s Aside: I adore the chapter pages. They are adorned with–what else?–stars. Being a writer I notice these beautiful little touches that publishers occasionally grace us with. Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily Ashton series sport Greek vases above their chapter headings. I fantasize about a logarithmic spiral adorning my chapters in Catching Genius. It endears me to these books. It indicates, to me, that someone else loved this book enough to come up with a little motif, a LOGO for heaven’s sake. Have you SEEN the gorgeous endpages of Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer? As a reader, do you notice these wonderful little bon bons? Do they mean anything to you?
Aside Aside: I have just received my page proofs. While they are ever so beautiful, they do not contain any bon bons, of a logarithmic nature or otherwise. But if I squint I can just sort of imagine them there…oooooooh, pretty…