This book is the Little Engine That Could. Initially just an off-shoot of Shannon’s Sundance screenplay, the novel has become its own singular creature. The story of the life-altering friendship between Iris Dearborn and Maggie Richmond is true to the beloved film but the novel is a gem in its own right when told from the perspective of a fresh, unexpected, otherworldy narrator — the sometimes ribald, always gimlet-eyed ghost of Charlotte Owings. The novel continues racking up awards and accolades.
Thanks to her “Terrible Shame,” 17-year-old Iris Deerborne is doomed to forever be The Untouchable of WaKeeney, Kansas — a tiny farming town in the uncharitable Bible Belt, circa 1961. That is, until the day a new girl, Maggie Richmond, blows into town from the Big City!
Maggie is beautiful, larger-than-life, and coveted by the most popular crowd. But it’s Iris she’s drawn to. Perhaps because Maggie has her own dark, shameful secret that will create a profound ripple effect in the tiny berg of WaKeeney.
“To The Stars” is the story of two teen misfits brought together by pain to enter a transformative friendship that unspools in lovely, unexpected and even dangerous ways.
Maggie has her own painful secrets, and she needs Iris just as much as Iris needs her. Traveling back to 1961, a time when being different in any way was alienating and even dangerous in a small town, Bradley-Colleary expertly delves into the hearts and minds of young people of the era, inviting readers to experience their painful feelings and small victories.
Making the story even more personal, the narrator is a woman who fought–and lost–her battle with depression and loved Iris as a daughter. (“This is not a ghost story. But it is a story told by a ghost”).
Bradley-Colleary brings the town and characters to full, engaging life in this moving narrative.
The pond central to the story exudes sadness, as the location of the narrator’s suicide, but also the sanctity and solace Iris feels there.
Minute character details—the flick of a cigarette, the way one’s “slick black hair” is “rolled into a stylish mound the Frogs call a ‘chingon’”—speak volumes both about individual personalities and mid-century Kansas.
Sometimes uncomfortable in the best ways, To the Stars will draw readers in. Expect to fall in love with Iris and Maggie.
Takeaway: A beautiful story of an unlikely small-town teen friendship that empowers when it’s needed most.
Great for fans of: Fiona Valpy’s The Dressmaker’s Gift, Mary Ellen Taylor’s Honeysuckle Season.
Reader's Favorite Review
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How do you describe a novel that leaves you so profoundly moved you’re almost speechless?
To The Stars by Shannon Bradley-Colleary is that kind of novel and not just because of the key social issues … alcoholism, abuse, and judgmental thinking … addressed through the two key characters of Iris and Maggie.
When Maggie, the city girl newly moved into the 1960s Bible-belt small town of Wakeeny befriends Iris, Maggie breaks a social requisite for fitting in with the chosen few.
To make matters worse for both girls, when Maggie brings about a Pygmalion-type transformation of Iris, she further shakes up the tongue-waggers.
But neither of those events compares to the most gossip-worthy scandal Maggie gives them that results in her mysterious exit from all their lives and brings the novel to a sad, yet strangely joyous conclusion.
While the emotionally moving story of Iris and Maggie is unforgettable … so much so that it has been made into a movie presented at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival … the author’s writing skills are equally impressive.
She is a master of making every word count. The result is a novel that is surface simple but profoundly deep.
Along with the use of an omniscient, ghost-like narrator, the characters, the plot, the settings, and an almost poetic atmosphere when the two girls swim in the lake, it’s the author’s ability to use a minimum of well-chosen words to say so much that has left me so in awe I’m nearly speechless.
Brilliant writing and wonderful reading. Thank you, Shannon Bradley-Colleary.