- Coming of Age
- 358 pages
- Racial inequalities
- Historical fiction
- Family values
Angela Jackson-Brown’s second novel, When Stars Rain Down, is the story of 18-year-old Opal Pruitt living in Parsons, Georgia in 1936.
Opal knows that the world is more separated than it should be, and in 1936 skin color has more to do with it than anyone would like. Though slavery has long been abolished, African Americans are still doing laborious work for whites and the town of Parsons is as segregated as it comes.
Opal has lived a quiet life, tucked away in “Colored Town” with her Granny Birdie. She hopes to live up to her grandmother’s expectations and that means working hard and keeping her head down. But, when the Ku Klux Klan unexpectedly descends on Opal’s neighborhood, the entire community is shaken. The entire town finds it hard to ignore the complicated racial inequities Parsons is home to, with Opal at the center of the story.
- 5/5 stars
You guys know that it’s not often that I rate a book 5/5 stars. In fact, it might be the first review that I’ve done where I’ve given a book full credit. Yet, When Stars Rain Down deserves every bit of it.
This novel had so many interesting, complicated topics, but Angela Jackson-Brown is an expert at tackling them. The author’s tone and writing style is easy to read and get swept up in, which is exactly what this book needed.
Though I’ll admit, it was a struggle to get adjusted to Jackson-Brown’s tone in the first chapter or two, I very quickly caught on to Opal’s dialect and the culture this book is trying to convey.
It’s no secret that historical fiction is not the easiest genre to write. It requires a ton of research, as accurate depictions as possible, and a talented hand to bring fictional characters to real life places. Yet, Opal is the perfect protagonist for this story. She’s young, and as most young people, sometimes she thinks she knows everything there is know. Other times, she struggles with her faith and her resolve in humanity. I think any character set in this timeline and this town would feel similarly, but Opal has a distinct way of pushing through and regaining her faith, no matter what terrible tragedies she goes through. I greatly admired and appreciated that her character was realistic with accurate struggles, but Opal also had the motivation to continue to question how to persevere through these moments.
While I’m on the topic of characters, let’s talk about Granny. It’s revealed early on in this novel that Opal’s mother has long since been out of everyone’s life. Her guardian is her grandmother, who she lives and works with. Granny may not be the lovey-dovey character that we sometimes view mothers as, but she cares deeply for Opal and is always in her corner. Granny and Opal’s relationship is relatively easy, though Granny’s relationship with her own children can sometimes be quite complicated. I think Granny, as a whole, is even more admirable than Opal at times. She continually deals with hardships in the novel, especially as the KKK descends upon Parsons, but instead of getting angry, she continues to turn to her faith. This is an commendable characteristic that not many people could realistically manage.
This book also tackles some difficult conversations about racial inequities. Something I found very interesting was the difference in perspective between the POC characters and the white characters. Jimmy Earl Ketchums, Miss Peggy, and Lori Beth all seem to think that they are ahead of the times and that things will change. These relationships sometimes defy the color line, but only for small aspects of time before racial inequalities are once again revealed. While the white characters aren’t necessarily “wrong” in trying to change these racial problems, they also don’t understand the plight of the other end of segregation and how that feels to Opal. Regardless of their perspective, or how the white characters make the POC characters feel in different environments, the world hasn’t changed yet, and events have happened that make the POC characters distrust the white characters, regardless of their actions. I feel this is obviously problematic as it continues the difficult divide between races, but it’s also completely unavoidable, as relatives of these same white characters are terrorizing “Colored Town” any chance they get.
Something else I wanted to mention quickly was the way Jackson-Brown uses weather as a device in this book. The changes in weather become foreshadowing for change and what is to come. In the beginning of the novel, the weather is unbearably hot, which affects the way the characters behave. As the characters change and the story progresses, the weather continues to change as well. I won’t go into this any further to avoid giving away spoilers, but I will say that I really enjoyed the way the author weaved this aspect into the storyline.
Overall, I have so many things to say about this book. I loved ALL of the characters in this book and how imperfect each of them were. The characters make real decisions that aren’t always the easiest ones, and I think that really makes this work of historical fiction so much more realistic.
I admired Opal’s character and the strength she has. She often sees herself as weak, especially when she compares herself to Granny, but time and time again she proves exactly how strong she is. She survives some very difficult physical and emotional struggles that are solely at the hands of racial inequities.
This book also has a very interesting take on religion, which I won’t get too much into (as it plays some important roles in the events in the storyline). While churches often encourage their community to trust in God and have faith, it’s easier said than done. Yet, no matter how difficult the lives are of some of these characters, they continue again and again to turn to their faith. I found this to be not only admirable, but motivating.
Overall, this book deserved 5 stars. There are a lot of complex topics happening in this storyline, but Opal’s story is one of strength and perseverance. While she may not be the character that many reader’s will connect with, her decisions are extremely realistic for a 17-year-old living in a tumultuous time. I did love Opal, but I also loved the other characters in this book as well and how Jackson-Brown really brings them to life.
I have had the opportunity to visit Savannah, Georgia, and learn about some of the history of racial inequities through the tours that they have available there. Yet, even knowing some of what has happened in this area in the past, Jackson-Brown truly brings this story to life.
When Stars Rain Down is not a happy story, but it’s an immersive experience that will have you laughing, crying, and finishing the entire book in one sitting. If you’d like to purchase this novel, you can get it from Amazon here.
If you loved When Stars Rain Down, don’t forget to pre-order Jackson-Brown’s new novel releasing July 5th, The Light Always Breaks.
Not sure what to read next? Check out our book reviews page for a list of my other reviews and recommendations.