"Grandma" is the hero of A House Made of Stars, a stunning debut novel by Tawnysha Greene. Grandma is also my new hero. A truly wonderful character, well beyond, I am sure, her depiction through the sensibility of a desperate, intelligent child. She's a literary marvel.
And the child! Her voice is perfect as we watch her reluctantly catching on to the horror around her—the cruel insanity of her father, the Old Testament submissiveness of an otherwise loving mother--hungrily embracing the hopeful glimpses she sees in others of a better life. The strength and savvy of her sister, another, subtly surprising grace that keeps us hopeful along with the narrator through their nearly unbearable awakening.
Now we come to the narration itself, which is ingeniously artful in its apparent simplicity. The limitations of the children's view augmented by their aural disability gives us a gentle vantage of irony that obviates the precociousness too often appearing in such voices, when the clever adult can be seen behind the narrative curtain. The author's hand is occasionally glimpsed in House, but not awkwardly, and only near the end, quite in step with the girl's awakened consciousness.
This story feels so real I cannot but wonder at its source. Greene mentions “journals” in her acknowledgments, and so, along with the especially heart-wrenching authenticity of a scene in which the children are beaten, I am fairly confident this is based on true events, and this saddens me to the core. But if it is purely fictitious, Greene's imagination is unquestioningly a celestial gift.
Either way, if the fifty shades of fickle in the contemporary world of publishing allows room for justice, A House Made of Stars will become the standout success it fully deserves to be.