Monday, January 23, 2012

Review: The Starlite Drive-In

Summary: When human bones are discovered on the grounds of the old Starlite Drive-in, only Callie Anne Benton knows the identity of the victim who mysteriously disappeared thirty-six years ago. 

It’s the sweltering summer of 1956 when a handsome drifter named Charlie Memphis arrives at the Starlite to help Callie Anne’s injured father run the theater. Both she and her mother, Teal, fall for Memphis’s rugged style and gentlemanly manners, but Callie Anne’s father—bitter in his role as caretaker for the rural drive-in and his agoraphobic wife—doesn’t like the drifter’s increasing interest in Teal. 

A disastrous turn of events changes their lives forever, and it’s up to the grown-up Callie Anne to unlock the secret of the decades-old mystery. 

Told through the voice of Callie Anne, a whip-smart tomboy reminiscent of Scout Finch, The Starlite Drive-in is a vivid snapshot of 1950s America. A compelling novel infused with hope, tragedy, and suspense, Callie Anne’s story will strike a chord with readers both young and old. -- Harper

I probably would have been drawn to the novel THE STARLITE DRIVE-IN by Marjorie Reynolds based on the description alone, but when I heard it being compared to my all-time favorite book TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, I just knew I had to see for myself. THE STARLITE DRIVE-IN is part coming of age, part murder mystery, and part romance; and it has recently been re-released in paperback.

I should know by now not to get my hopes up that a novel will live up to TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, and I've actually decided that it's not even fair to make that comparison. I don't want to say that I didn't enjoy THE STARLITE DRIVE-IN because it was a good read with interesting characters; however, it wasn't TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. But really, that's no surprise. What I can say is that I appreciated this novel and especially the coming-of-age aspects of the story. (I am still a sucker for a good coming-of-age tale!)

THE STARLITE DRIVE-IN had a wonderful character in Callie Anne, a tween girl who lives with her parents at a drive-in theater. Her family life is a bit of a mess. Her father is busy with running the drive-in and dealing with his injury and her mother is afraid to leave the house. When a handsome stranger comes into their lives to help Callie Anne's dad maintain the drive-in, Callie (and her mother) are quite smitten with him. However, Callie Anne's dad is extremely jealous of the affect he is having on his wife. As the summer begins to heat up, so do emotions and tensions among the characters.

I adored Callie Anne and thought she was a perfect narrator for this story! Having a daughter the exact same age, I could relate to her. Callie Anne was dealing with some out-of-the-ordinary issues with her parents, and my heart just broke for her. But it was the coming-of-age parts of the story that really appealed to me. I loved how the author capture the essence of a tween girl. She did a great job showing all of the changes that are taking place in a young girl as well as showing all of the conflict that Callie Anne faced as she tried to figure out these changes.

In addition to Callie Anne, I thought many of the other characters in this novel were very interesting. While I didn't exactly like Callie's father, I found him to be intriguing. I also enjoyed the drifter Memphis and I appreciated that I (like Callie) wasn't quite sure to make of him. In addition, I liked Callie's love interest (even if I did think he was too old for her!) and I especially liked seeing Callie Anne's reaction to him. And finally, I found Callie's mother to be an extremely complex character. If was interesting to see how her relationship with Memphis gave her the courage to not only leave the house but to stand up to her domineering husband.

Another aspect of this novel that I enjoyed a great deal was the setting. The book took place in the mid 1950s and I thought Ms. Reynolds' did a very good job of establishing the feel of this time period. Her descriptions of the drive-in as well as the small town brought this story to life for me. I could picture each scene in this novel perfectly, and I appreciated the fine details Ms. Reynolds included.

I chose to feature THE STARLITE DRIVE-IN as part of Mystery Monday because the book begins with the discovery of human remains. So technically, this novel is a mystery. Although I do have to say that the mystery angle of the novel isn't its strongest part -- I much preferred the character development. I think most readers will figure out pretty early on what happened and who's to blame. There are a few twists in the story that add a little bit of intrigue, but those readers who are expecting a true mystery might be disappointed.

THE STARLITE DRIVE-IN was selected by the American Library Association as one of the Ten Best Books of the Year for Young Adults, and I can honestly say that it didn't dawn on me that this book has YA crossover appeal until I read that.  However, the more I think about it, the more I do think that's the case. I will be passing this one along to Booking Daughter! THE STARLITE DRIVE-IN has also been optioned as a film and I do think it would make a good one!

I wasn't able to find any discussion questions for THE STARLITEI have no doubt that book clubs would find plenty to talk about between the pages of THE STARLITE DRIVE-IN.

Overall, I enjoyed THE STARLITE DRIVE-IN. It was definitely an enjoyable read, and I recommend it to fans of YA as well as women's fiction.

Thanks to the publisher for sending a copy of this novel.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.


rhapsodyinbooks said...

What fun to read a book with a protagonist the same age as your daughter!

Karlie said...

This sounds like a book I would enjoy. You should have never even thought it would come close to To Kill a Mockingbird!

bermudaonion said...

I've seen other books compared to To Kill a Mockingbird and it's just not a fair comparison. I'm glad to know there's much to enjoy in this book.

Marg said...

It always bemuses me a bit to see books compared to classics like To Kill a Mockingbird because it so rarely lives up to it.

I would be tempted to read this just simply because I really enjoy taking my son to the drive in!

Anonymous said...

I saw a review of this at Leeswammes Blog and she loved it as much as you did. It's definitely on my wishlist. Great review!

Shelleyrae @ Book'd out

Serena said...

Sounds interesting. It is so hard to live up to a comparison like that...I try to avid books that have those lofty comparisons because I always end up disappointed.

Beth F said...

Funny. I featured this one at SheKnows yesterday (Monday). I saw it as a coming-of-age story more than a mystery, though there is a mystery element. Why do publicists make comparisons to TKAM?