Trish Doller writes incredibly real teens, and this searing story of love, betrayal, and how not to lose your mind will resonate with readers who want their stories gritty and utterly true.
Callie was kidnapped by her mother when she was young. Living on junk food, dealing with her mom's mood swings, moving from city to city, and learning to survive against the harsh circumstance of her childhood is all that Callie has ever known.
So when her mom is busted for kidnapping and Callie is forced to reunite with her dad, she does not know how to react to a caring parent, friends, new love interest, and a huge Greek family (including a bossy and outspoken grandma). Even if her memory reminds her vaguely of time when all of this brought comfort, instead of feelings of abandonment and guilt.
The whole town knowns her story about her kidnapping, maybe even better than she does. So when she meets an attractive older guy who doesn't assume anything about her or even knows about her past life, she finds herself attracted to his easy ways, golden hair, and tatted arms. Despite the fact that he has a reputation.
But when Callie starts enjoying her new life in Tarpon Springs, she begins to feel guilty for loving her new family and enjoying having actual friends, all without her mom.
I loved Callie's dad. I loved her whole Greek family actually. But her dad had a hard role to play, took the brunt of Callie's anger a lot, and had to reconnect with a daughter who doesn't remember him. He stood strong and continued to show Callie the meaning of forgiveness, love, and family.
Doller has a honest take on communities. I fell in love with the little Florida town and its Greek community in Tarpon Springs. The setting takes a great plot and pushes it to amazing. With dive shops, thick culture, names like Callista and Ekaterina, Greek 'gods' walking around, and strong family loyalties, this is one of my favorite settings. I am dying to make it to Tarpon Springs, find a bench like the one Callie frequents, eat some humus, and meet my own good looking Greek man. The setting (which was based on a real town) and community fits perfectly. It's not only believable, but it makes you feel like you are actually there.
The only thing that bugged me was the age difference of the main characters. Callie is seventeen and Alex in his early twenties. It took a few moments me to adjust to "how cool" Alex was acting about their age difference. Which isn't really that much -- but it is when you're that young. However, Callie is an old soul and has had to mature quickly because of everything that her mom has put her through. And I had to remind myself that I was seventeen when I went off to college. So -- maybe seventeen isn't a huge difference from early twenties. Then again, I grew so much in four years that I was a different person. Their relationship would have been more believable if she had been older, him younger, or if their had been more of a stink about their age difference.
But Callie proved me wrong when she handled a difficult situation with Alex with grace, maturity and the selflessness that I would love to see in more main characters. Her selflessness and maturity was one of my favorite parts.
Trish Doller is beyond talented. This is how a mature YA novel should be written. Fans of Something Like Normal will not be disappointed. Where the Stars Still Shine is gritty, realistic, and moving . I loved this book from beginning to end.