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A Light-Hearted Story in Need of Some Rewriting
on December 4, 2012
A portion of a review from my blog, The Reader's Commute:
It should be noted that this was one of the first books I've read that has had strong religious themes. I admired the way these themes and ideas were presented and I thought that the right information was weaved into the story as it progressed. However, I'd just like to focus on the story without delving too much into these themes; rather, I'd like to focus on the writing, storyline, and character development.
I'm a fan of post-war stories centered around families, and I love small town settings. Collins has peopled his town with a diverse, pleasant cast of supporting characters: Audrey, the honey-haired friend and potential love interest for Jimmy, Calvin, the poor farmer / bus driver bent on doing good, and Mr. Miller, the wealthy general store owner - all of these characters add heart and depth to the story.
Jimmy, as a main character, is interesting enough. He's clearly deeply affected by the loss of his father, and his insecurity and sadness shows in his demeanor. In the first few pages, the reader is introduced to Jimmy as a character who could care less about Christmas, presenting a gruff outward appearance. We see Jimmy reaching for a cigarette, not caring if he gets kicked out of school.
However, that persona dissolves rather quickly as events unfold. For three years, Jimmy has been dealing with the death of his father, and has probably "acted out" for the majority of that time. While reading this book, it felt like Jimmy's personality transitions too quickly. He's too quick to befriend Calvin, who Jimmy usually tries not to sit near on the bus for fear of getting his ear chewed off. He's too quick to start believing in the "hope" that Calvin describes to him. However, I tried not to let this bother me as I continued to read; I chose to ignore the Jimmy from the start of the book and instead focus on the Jimmy who wants to "be good."
As a writer, I grappled with the number of adjectives used in this story. The descriptions left very little to the imagination. In the introduction of the general store, I learn that brass bell mounted on the door is "two-inch wide, round." I learn that the door is "sixty-year-old heavy leaded glass and oak" (26). I've written before about the problems of "showing" and not "telling" in a work. When a writer only "shows," there's very little for the reader to imagine. It's as if all the work's been done for us! This can also be seen in the dialogue that follows on page 27, when Mr. Miller offers Marge a box of Christmas lights:
"I'd love to have them," Marge softly replied, "but I couldn't afford to buy them...""Marge," Miller's tone was now scolding, "I'm not trying to sell you the lights. I'm giving them to you. Take home a box tonight..."
It's easy enough for the reader to determine, from the dialogue chosen, that Marge is resisting the offer of the lights. It's easy to determine that Mr. Miller is insistent from the way he says "I'm not trying to sell you the lights." So why do we need "softly replied" and "Miller's tone was now scolding?" Let us as readers figure that out for ourselves!
I really enjoyed the robbery plot within the story. As Jimmy struggles to decide between "right" and "wrong," I was left guessing what the outcome of events would be. There were many plot twists within the story that kept me on my toes. Ultimately, the final twist Collins throws our way was not necessary in my eyes, as I feel the characters were in a good place without it; the inclusion of this twist in the final pages felt silly to me. Despite any issues I may have had with the construction of the story, The Christmas Star was a light-hearted holiday read that kept me entertained on my commute. I'm looking forward to sharing the story with my family, too.