Friday, August 10, 2018

Rust and Stardust, or, the One in Which I Mostly Lose All Hope for Mankind


Rust and Stardust by T. Greenwood

Pages: 368
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: August 7th, 2018
Cover Comments: This is a beautiful cover, and every element in it: the red ribbon, the stars in the background, and the way the ribbon is worn and tattered, speaks to the book's plot and feel.
First Lines: "The girls at school had a club, a secret club with secret rules."

Camden, NJ, 1948.

When 11 year-old Sally Horner steals a notebook from the local Woolworth's, she has no way of knowing that 52 year-old Frank LaSalle, fresh out of prison, is watching her, preparing to make his move. Accosting her outside the store, Frank convinces Sally that he’s an FBI agent who can have her arrested in a minute—unless she does as he says.
This chilling novel traces the next two harrowing years as Frank mentally and physically assaults Sally while the two of them travel westward from Camden to San Jose, forever altering not only her life, but the lives of her family, friends, and those she meets along the way. 



What a tragic novel, about a tragic life. There should be no surprise going in that this is a very sad novel, about the life of Sally Horner, the inspiration behind Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. Sally is slyly abducted from her life in Camden, NJ, after she steals a notebook on a dare from classmates and is apprehended by a man who tells her he is with the FBI. The events that follow are equally unbelievable and upsetting. 

T. Greenwood pulls from the facts of real events, but adds her own take on what might have happened in between the stark realities we know from Sally's case. Points of view swap between Sally, her mother, her sister, and other people Sally encounters throughout her harrowing journey. The changing around of POV lent interesting perspectives to Sally's story. Alongside the horror of Sally's life in Frank LaSalle's clutches, we have Sally's mother wondering why Sally would have gone with this man, Sally's sister Ella worrying about her sister as well as her young child, and various sympathetic characters who meet Sally and realize that something isn't right.

I had never heard of Sally Horner before picking up this book, so I was on the edge of my seat as her story progressed, amazed at how many opportunities passed by where someone, even Sally herself, could have saved her from her situation. In the beginning, I found myself frustrated as Sally let her politeness and fear of authority and the law keep her from saying anything to anyone until it was almost too late. I bristled at the myriad suggestions that characters made that Sally had done this to herself by going "willingly" and that she had a part in the blame for the sexual acts LaSalle forced on her. As much as I wanted to blame these things on Sally being a young girl in 1948, these same issues could be keeping girls today from getting the help that they need. 

I hesitate to give Rust and Stardust a full five stars because I thought that Sally's reasoning for not escaping or telling someone about her situation was not written very convincingly, and Sally's inner monologue throughout this whole book did not quite ring true for me. She's constantly confused by LaSalle's identity and why he is doing these things to her, but her thoughts never made this inner conflict very clear. Obviously, LaSalle deluded the real Sally Horner for years, but I felt it could have been written more convincingly than it was here.

As heartbreaking as Rust and Stardust is, I felt that T. Greenwood did well at not using the abuse that Sally endured for their shock factor. There were abuse scenes that were nauseating and starkly painted, illustrating Sally's fear and shame, but brief and non-graphic. Even throughout all the hardships that Sally had to bear throughout her captivity, I was touched by the notes of hope throughout the novel. Sally finds friends in unlikely places - a traveling circus member, her next door neighbor in her trailer park, a friend in her school whom she dares to tell her real name. These are mostly details fabricated by Greenwood, but I hope that the real Sally was able to find these lights in a dark sky too.

4/5 stars

I received this novel through a giveaway on Goodreads. This in no way affects my opinion.

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