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.
When I first picked up Blue Stars, I didn’t really know what to expect. I’ve read a lot of novels set during historical wars, but I don’t recall reading one set during modern warfare, so I have nothing to make a direct comparison to, but the themes are so similar no matter what the time period that I was instantly drawn into the story.
Told in alternating perspectives of the two main characters, Ellen and Lacey, I found myself equally invested in both of their stories, even though as characters they have nothing in common with each other, and I have nothing in common with either of them. Ellen is a successful professor, widowed and mother to two children and guardian to a third, whereas Lacey is one of life’s battlers – a former single mother who married Eddie not so much for love as for security and a sense of belonging. One is very social, the other very introverted, one cool and collected, and the other brash and outspoken, and it was this juxtaposition of two very different characters that I enjoyed the most.
Blue Stars is not particularly plot driven – although there is some discussion about the war in Iraq and of course the journeys that Lacey’s husband and Ellen’s son go through after their injuries, it’s very much a character driven novel. It’s obvious right from the beginning of the novel, where Tedrowe spends a lot of time looking into the intimate family details of Ellen’s family, and then switching to Lacey as she struggles to find her fit in her own life.
There is a lot of time spent on family relationships, but the biggest focus of the book, and the part that I enjoyed the most, was the development of the friendship between Ellen and Lacey. Although they have nothing in common up until the point where they first meet at Walter Reed Army Hospital, their situations draw them together – and their friendship forms as more from necessity and mutual respect for the way each other lives their lives, rather than a personality click. It’s an interesting perspective in a novel, and felt incredibly realistic – they need each other to survive a difficult period, but without the pull of a personality match, the friendship develops differently.
As well as focusing on the characters, Tedrowe also creates some pretty damning, albeit fictional, evidence of how injured armed forces servicemen, and even more so, their families, when they are sent back from the war. From the confusing jargon and multiple social agencies, to the standard of housing and the separation from the rest of their families, although I don’t have enough knowledge to say whether it is realistic or not, I could feel Tedrowe’s passion on the subject throughout her novel.
With multiple themes and layers, very carefully and realistically drawn characters, non-traditional relationships and some very difficult decisions, Blue Stars is an excellent contemporary novel that is both character driven and eye-opening, and if it sounds interesting to you, definitely check it out.