The Starplace - Vicki Grove

The Starplace by Vicki Grove

I don’t know exactly what I was expecting when I read The Starplace by Vicki Grove again after so many years… It’s aged pretty well for a book about two girls whose friendship helps expose the history of the Ku Klux Klan in a town long segregated. There was a lot I forgot, things that obviously stuck with me which I didn’t remember, other things which did which I wasn’t happy to think of, others which made me smile.

When Frannie meets Celeste she begins growing, first in small ways, questioning segregation, and then in larger ways as when she confronts a racist business owner, but embarrasses her friend in the process. Frannie herself never has to overcome racism in her own mind, and even her family has no trouble accepting the interracial friendship, the worst it comes to for Frannie is when one of her brother’s refuses to look at Celeste because her ‘skin color is wrong.’

I thought this book did some things really well, such as introducing the horror and mythos of the Ku Klux Klan to upper middle grade readers, turning it into the spooky sort of story that really bit me as a kid and even today put a chill in me. In fact, I’ve never ever forgotten the part where Celeste takes Frannie up into her ‘haunted’ attic, I was just better able to visualize it all. I also am pretty sure I raced to the end, or finished it late at night… Or maybe when I reread it I only got to that point and stopped, because it doesn’t end.

Considering the wildfire riots going on at this time, I can’t honestly believe that only Frannie’s dad is the one to try to defend racism as ‘capitalism,’ the same way some still believe the wage gap has to do with women and people of color not ‘trying wanting it badly enough.’ I also forgot that concurrent to this was a mother who wanted to go from secretary at the real estate agency to broker.

I was also surprised to see that this book has the then equivalent of a sensitivity reader whom Vicki Grove thanks first in her acknowledgments, Evelyn Pulliam. I think it owes something to both women that the truest moment of brilliance comes out near the end: after their encounter in the bowling alley, the infamous ‘refuse service’ sign, Frannie blunders into another situation where Celeste is all too clear on the real reason. This time, however, Celeste refuses to be forced to be humiliated again and pulls out of Frannie’s grasp saying:

“Didn't you learn at the bowling alley that there are huge gaps in your understanding of what it's like to be me? I'm not going to have you holding on to me again while another white person humiliates me in public! I said let it drop, so let it drop!”

I think I owe a lot to my own understanding of racism, growing up in a mostly white town, to this book. I haven’t read the landscape recently so I can’t blanket suggest this book, especially since a book by a black author might be much better suited, but perhaps in a classroom this book still has merit, especially if taught concurrently to the events that Frannie observes on the nightly news: the Berlin Wall’s construction, discussion of race riots all across America, even the dismissal of a possibility of war in Vietnam.

The writing was good, the two girls friendship touching, and the empathy made it a harrowing read, at least for me. I shed a tear for the father who asked ‘“My cute pretty girls are both mad at me at once. I guess I'm just too dumb to get with the twentieth century, huh?” for all the fathers who are still unable to get with the 21st century.

In the end, this might still be a good place to start a discussion on racism. On the other hand, this book is almost 20 years old, and there may be better ones out there to start the discussion with your kids.

Pages: 224
Year: 1999
Publisher: Puffin

Read: 13 May 2017 to 17 May 2017
Stars: 3 (liked it)