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Cage of Stars    by Jacquelyn Mitchard order for
Cage of Stars
by Jacquelyn Mitchard
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2006 (2006)
Hardcover, CD

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In a Mormon community, smart, almost-thirteen year old Veronica (Ronnie) Bonham Swan - 'an eager girl with long, twisty auburn hair ... who loved horses and science and hated laundry and term papers' - briefly babysits her small sisters, Becky and Ruthie, while her father hunts and her mother does an errand. In the middle of a game of hide-and-seek (Ronnie is hiding) a schizophrenic young man - Scott Early - shows up, slashes the little girls' throats and then is overcome with shock and remorse.

How does the family cope? As well as can be expected in such circumstances. Though they're all strong people, the parents fall apart and sensible Ronnie holds the family together through her own nightmares and panic attacks. You have to like this young woman - when she screams at news media vultures or rages at strangers pretending to share her family's pain, she's honest and straightforward and fearless. Perhaps what saves Ronnie and her parents is the birth of her new baby brother Rafe, who soon nestles his way into their hearts. What happens to the killer? He's sentenced to a 'maximum security facility for the criminally mentally ill' and is out in three years, apparently cured, and supported by a loving young wife, Kelly, who is soon pregnant with their daughter.

Though Ronnie's parents eventually take the step (needed to recover their own mental health) to forgive their daughters' killer, she tells us that 'guilt made my anger like a burn that no one ever ran under cold water; and so it kept burning and burning down to my bones.' Ronnie tells her parents that she's going to San Diego to train to be an EMT - which will allow her to earn enough money to pay for college. She does that, and makes new friends, including Chinese American Kevin who tells her of a legend that certain people are born 'connected by an invisible red thread.' But Ronnie also hunts for Scott Early - this is hinted at early in the novel and the suspense builds slowly and steadily - what action will Ronnie take when vengeance is within her grasp?

In parallel with this account of Ronnie's quest for retribution for the killer and closure for herself, is a romantic tale of young love - Ronnie's for Miko Sissinelli, son of rich Catholic neighbors, who is 'so handsome he looked like Johnny Depp' - but he's not a Mormon.

I appreciated the Mormon perspective on life and the sense of community and caring that Jacquelyn Mitchard depicts in Cage of Stars. I recommend the novel to you, but be prepared for a tearful read, as a family bears the unbearable and all of them - even the strong-willed teenager who witnesses her small sisters' deaths - come though it with the most amazing grace.

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