The Star That Always Stays

Written by Anna Rose Johnson
Review by Valerie Adolph

Norvia was born about 1900 on Beaver Island in Lake Michigan, the daughter of an Ojibwe woman and an immigrant from Sweden. When she was a young teen, Norvia’s mother divorced her husband and later remarried. This second marriage took the family to live in a small town, away from the island and the comforting legends and tales of Norvia’s Ojibwe grandparents.

Norvia’s new stepfather, affectionately called “Uncle Virgil,” is the opposite of her birth father, who had been harsh with his family and opposed to education. Uncle Virgil is gentle and thoughtful, encouraging reading and school attendance. His home appears palatial to a family used to a hardscrabble existence. Still, Norvia finds it difficult to adjust to the large portrait of Uncle Virgil’s first wife, to her hypochondriac stepbrother, to a church of a different denomination. And there are the spiteful murmurings of the townspeople and the girls in her school about the family being indigenous.

Although all the names have been changed, the author has used her great-grandmother’s story as the basis of this novel for tween and middle-grade readers. She has even provided photographs of the main characters and the home that is the main setting for the novel. She has dealt affectionately but with honesty and clarity in describing a young girl’s struggle to balance her rich indigenous heritage with her love of reading and her interest in all she learns at school.

The strength of this novel is the gentle warmth of its tone, even when telling of Norvia’s confusions and missteps. The reader feels they are experiencing her emotions rather than being told a story and that they are privileged to share the love of a family adapting to and growing through change.