Every Soul a Star is a young adult novel by Wendy Mass that takes three clichés of adolescence—the Brainiac, the Pretty Girl, and the Antisocial Misfit—and develops them into psychologically nuanced characters who are at once sympathetic and believable. The novel was published in 2008, well after Mass had established her reputation as a foremost young adult fiction writer of the new millennium. Her prolific output—nearly 30 titles in just under 15 years—has secured a wide audience with its explorations of real-world situations, specifically the delicate issues of defining identity. Her adolescent characters move uncertainly into adulthood in the era of the internet, video gaming, cell phones, and social networking. This study guide refers to the 2010 Little Brown paperback edition.
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Every Soul a Star’s narration is shared by three 13-year-olds: Ally Summers, a precocious if socially underdeveloped homeschooled nerd fascinated by science, particularly astronomy (she dreams of finding a comet); Bree Holden, a pretty, if shallow aspiring Homecoming Queen who dreams only of being a supermodel and defines herself largely by her social standing in her school; and Jack Rosten, a glum, overweight social misfit who lives most authentically in a fantasy world of drawings he creates alone in his treehouse.
It is early summer, just weeks before a total solar eclipse. Ally eagerly anticipates the event. She and her younger brother have been raised at Moon Shadow Campground, a remote campsite in New England that her parents have run for 10 years. The Summers family have devoted the last three years to preparing the camp to welcome thousands of tourists, amateur astronomers, and professional scientists to enjoy its unrivaled viewing of the eclipse. As the event approaches, Ally is devastated to learn that her parents, both scientists, plan to relocate the family back to Chicago after the eclipse.
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When the eclipse is over, Ally’s parents plan to hand over the operation of the campsite to a new family, the Holdens. Bree Holden, popular, pretty, and an expert in fashion and makeup, aspires to be on the cover of Seventeen before she is 17. As Bree anticipates her summer job at the mall and moving on to middle school in the fall, her parents, both research physicists, inform her that the family will be moving to Moon Shadow for three years and that she and her younger sister will have to adapt to an entirely new kind of life, including being homeschooled. Bree, crushed, has only a few days before the family leaves.
Last we meet Jack Rosten. Jack struggles in school. He daydreams and doodles in his notebook. In the last week of the school year, his science teacher, Mr. Silver, gives him a choice: Retake seventh grade science (a humiliating prospect) or accompany him to Moon Shadow for two weeks to witness the eclipse and to help collect data for a cutting edge international experiment in pinpointing the existence of an exoplanet—that is, a planet outside the Solar System. Reluctantly, Jack agrees to go to the campsite.
The three forge a friendship as the eclipse approaches. Bree and Ally bond over an ill-conceived plan to get their parents to change their minds about moving. Jack responds unexpectedly to the responsibilities Mr. Silver gives him when the teacher must leave camp abruptly. Jack is also drawn to Ally’s intelligence and sunny practicality. Ally is flattered by Jack’s attention. Awkward about her appearance, she is unsure of her appeal to boys. Amid the preparations for the eclipse, Ally shows Bree the possibilities of life in the campground away from the distractions of civilization. Bree instructs Ally on survival strategies for school in a city. Together, the three pre-teens, along with their younger siblings and a camp friend of Ally’s named Ryan, complete the sophisticated experiment that helps to confirm the existence of the exoplanet.
Each of the kids is moved by the wonder of the rare astronomical event, and each understands that the experience at the campground has changed them. Ally comes to see the importance of social interaction and the value of friendship, and she is ready for the challenges of her new life in the city. Bree learns that her value need not be defined by the appreciation and admiration of others and that she has a kind of beauty that cannot be photographed or airbrushed. Jack emerges from his private escapist world of fantasy to see the wonder of the real world and the complex rewards of opening up to others.
By Wendy Mass