The Prettiest Star

Hub City. Apr. 2020. 308p. ISBN 9781938235627. $26. F
In Sickels’s second novel (after The Evening Hour), Brian Jackson returns to his traditional Ohio home in 1986 to battle AIDS. Once townsfolk discover why Brian is back, the taunts begin; Brian’s little sister, Jess, is shunned at school; and people who were once thought of as friends become distant. A scene at the local swimming pool clearly illuminating the community’s ignorance regarding AIDS is harrowing. Brian’s family reacts to his illness with denial, misunderstanding, and shame, though Brian’s mother, Sharon, begins to look at things in a different light. The story is told in alternating chapters by Brian, Sharon, and Jess, but unfortunately all three voices are strikingly similar, and at times Sickels explains the characters’ motivations and feelings rather than letting the characters speak for themselves. In addition, the community is portrayed as universally intolerant, and while it’s true that the disease was hard to fathom, this depiction seems to distill the gay and straight characters to a simplistic dichotomy of good and bad.
VERDICT A touching, sad, and important book, but sturdier editing would have helped to take it to another level. Libraries with large LGBTQ collections will want, but novels such as Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers and Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty delve into the subject with more success.
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