Blue Stars by Emily Gray Tedrowe
Published by St. Martin’s Press
Review copy provided by Netgalley
From the publisher:
BLUE STARS brings to life the realities of the modern day home front: how to get through the daily challenges of motherhood and holding down a job while bearing the stress and uncertainty of war, when everything can change in an instant. It tells the story of Ellen, a Midwestern literature professor, who is drawn into the war when her legal ward Michael enlists as a Marine; and of Lacey, a proud Army wife who struggles to pay the bills and keep things going for her son while her husband is deployed. Ellen and Lacey cope with the fear and stress of a loved one at war while trying to get by in a society that often ignores or misunderstands what war means to women today. When Michael and Eddie are injured in Iraq, Ellen and Lacey’s lives become intertwined in Walter Reed Army Hospital, where each woman must live while caring for her wounded soldier. They form an alliance, and an unlikely friendship, while helping each other survive the dislocated world of the army hospital. Whether that means fighting for proper care for their men, sharing a six-pack, or coping with irrevocable loss, Ellen and Lacey pool their strengths to make it through. In the end, both women are changed, not only by the war and its fallout, but by each other.
I almost put down this book after fifty pages. It was difficult for me to get into, I didn’t understand where it was going, and I wasn’t connecting with the characters. Had I done so, I would have made a huge mistake because Blue Stars is a truly great book and, although it didn’t have that punch at the beginning, the rest of the novel more than made up for the rocky start.
This is a difficult one for me to review because I found the reading experience very difficult emotionally. What Ellen and Lacey experience in Blue Stars is something that sadly many American families go through on a daily basis – the care and rehabilitation of a family member injured at war. There were many times throughout this novel that I had to pause, calm myself down, and steel myself to finish the chapter – not because I wasn’t enjoying it, but because my emotions were just so affected by the story Tedrowe wrote (a story that is fiction but could absolutely be true, and I am sure many families would say IS very close to the truth of their daily lives).
That being said, I think Tedrowe was extremely successful in what I assume she was trying to do – showcase the plight of the families in this situation. Lacey lost her job, her sanity, and contact with most of her family and friends during the time she spent at the military hospital with her husband. And the conditions of this hospital (which have been documented in many news stories, you can Google Walter Reed to find out more) were beyond deplorable. She went from a very comfortable and mostly peaceful life to living in squalor, married to a man she could no longer recognize, with no idea how to pay for her next meal, much less the bills that were piling up back at home. Oh, and she quickly spiraled into alcoholism while all of this was going on. To put it mildly, she broke my heart. I cannot imagine how unbearable this life is for those who experience it in the real world. So, so hard.
I connected with Ellen much less than I did with Lacey, but that’s not to say her story is any less important or impactful than Lacey’s – it’s just different. What I loved about the two of them is how they were able to rely on one another in this incredibly stressful and overwhelming situation – when all else failed, they had each other. Their friendship was a beautiful story in itself and a joy to read about.
I wish I could tell you a lot more about this book but honestly, just read it. It really did have a huge impact on me emotionally and I had to take some time after finishing it before picking up my next read. Highly recommended.