Google+ Reading Teen: Light From a Distant Star by Mary McGarry Morris: Book Review

Monday, August 27, 2012

Light From a Distant Star by Mary McGarry Morris: Book Review

Light From a Distant Star
by Mary McGarry Morris
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Broadway (July 17, 2012)
Language: English
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It is early summer and Nellie Peck is on the cusp of adolescence – gangly, awkward, full of questions, but keenly observant and wiser than many of the adults in her life. The person she most admires is her father, Benjamin, a man of great integrity. His family’s century old hardware store is failing and Nellie’s mother has had to go back to work. Nellie’s older half-sister has launched a disturbing search for her birth father. Often saddled through the long, hot days with her timid younger brother, Henry, Nellie is determined to toughen him up. And herself as well.

Three strangers enter Nellie’s protected life. Brooding Max Devaney is an ex-con who works in her surly grandfather’s junkyard. Reckless Bucky Saltonstall has just arrived from New York City to live with his elderly grandparents. And pretty Dolly Bedelia is a young stripper who rents the family’s small, rear apartment and becomes the titillating focus of Nellie’s eavesdropping.

When violence erupts in the lovely Peck house, the prime suspect seems obvious. Nellie knows who the real murderer is, but is soon silenced by fear and the threat of scandal. The truth, as she sees it, is shocking and unthinkable, and with everyone’s eyes riveted on her in the courtroom, Nellie finds herself seized with doubt.
"Light from a Distant Star" is a coming of age story in the style of "To Kill a Mockingbird" or "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn". The main character of the story is a 13 year old girl who lives with her parents, older half-sister Ruth, and younger brother, Henry. Hers is an average family who has fallen on hard times financially. In order to bring in some extra money they rent out the small apartment that is attached to their home. Their tenant is a young woman named Dolly. Dolly has returned from New York City after a failed attempt at Broadway. Now she works as a pole dancer/stripper. Nellie and her sister find Dolly exotic and mysterious. The worries and stresses of everyday life weigh heavily on this family and their relationships. These are only magnified when tragedy strikes.

This is not a fast-paced action story or the normal teen novel. It is slow moving and the emphasis is on the characters and their interactions with the people in their lives. It did take a bit for me to settle into the story. At first I wasn't sure where it was going or when something was going to happen. However, I came to care about Nellie and her family....hoping that they were able to hold their family together. One of the things that helped me to warm to Nellie is that I have a granddaughter who is just slightly younger who is also in the middle of an older sister and younger brother. I could recognize some of her in Nellie and it drew me in. This is not a book for young readers but I would recommend it for older teens.
  • Sexual Content:  Moderate
  • Profanity:  Very Heavy
  • Violence:  Moderate
  • Other Notables:  Smoking, Drinking, and Drug Use
For more details, check out Light From a Distant Star on


  1. Keep in mind that many teenage readers are fairly sophisticated in their understanding of reality. "To Kill a Mockingbird" revolves around the trial of a man unjustly accused of rape, when the true rapist is a family member of the victim. Harper Lee's beloved classic is on thousands of middle school and high school reading lists. And, rightly so. "Light From a Distant Star" tells a sensitive and important story of a young person's difficult moral choice when faced with adult deception. Thank you for your comments.

  2. While I agree with Mary about the level of sophistication of many teenage readers, my reason for not recommending this book to younger readers is because of the language. It does tell a sensitive and important story but it is filled with language I wouldn't want a middle schooler reading. Harper Lee's book continues to be a classic without a single "F word".


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