Book Review: Rust & Stardust

  • Author: T. Greenwood
  • Edition: Kindle Edition
  • Published: August 7th, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical, True Crime, Mystery, Suspense
  • Star Rating: ★★★★☆
  • Goodreads

Camden, NJ, 1948.

When 11 year-old Sally Horner steals a notebook from the local Woolworth’s, she has no way of knowing that 52 year-old Frank LaSalle, fresh out of prison, is watching her, preparing to make his move. Accosting her outside the store, Frank convinces Sally that he’s an FBI agent who can have her arrested in a minute—unless she does as he says. 

This chilling novel traces the next two harrowing years as Frank mentally and physically assaults Sally while the two of them travel westward from Camden to San Jose, forever altering not only her life, but the lives of her family, friends, and those she meets along the way.

WHAT IS IT ABOUT?

Rust & Stardust is a fictionalized retelling of the true story that inspired the classic novel, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. It centers around the girl that Dolores Haze was based off of, Sally Horner, an eleven year old who was kidnapped by a child molester named Frank la Salle in 1948. It’s a vital but heartbreaking book that chronicles Sally’s journey from her kidnapping to her rescue and beyond.

MY THOUGHTS

I was hesitant to read this novel at first. Often times, novels based on true stories, particularly true crime, and with a victim as young as this one under this kind of duress can lend itself to exploitation but Greenwood navigates these tricky waters with a certain finesse. This is Sally’s story and Sally’s story alone. Yes, Frank is the clear antagonist and he casts a shadow long and wide, but I never felt like I was being forced to sympathize with him or that he was overshadowing Sally’s story. I think that is what makes this book so important. Many times when we see rape depicted in media, it is shown through the lens of the attacker or the victim’s friends and family, particularly for women, and it was a nice change of pace to just have the focus be on Sally and how she handled her trauma, always seeking the light even in the face of utter and endless darkness.

I also enjoyed the many different female relationships in this book. Even the beginning chapters were so painfully relatable, the aching, tender, and desperate desire to seek out that quiet acceptance that only other girls can provide. I enjoyed the development between Sally and Sister Mary Katherine, Lena, and Ruth, and back at her home in Camden we saw her sister, Susan, and mother, Ella, struggle with their grief over Sally’s disappearance, each coping in their own way. I thought the portrayal of their grief was realistic and not always pretty. Ella in particular, plays a dubious role in this book, while it might feel easy to see her as a bad mother Greenwood is too good at ensuring we get multi-dimensional examination of her character, making things much trickier than the simple simplicity of defining her as good or bad.

Yes, I often wanted to grab every adult character in this book and shake them until they opened their eyes and did something to save Sally, it was frustrating to see her failed by so many adults but that is the real heart of Sally’s story and anything other than that would be a disservice to her memory. It’s all the more devastating to know that many of these relationships were fictionalized and there is no way of knowing  whether Sally had any form of support system during those stolen years. 

FINAL VERDICT

This is a coming-of-age story, albeit one told under nightmarish conditions. My heart broke for Sally time and time again. Greenwood’s depiction of Sally’s voice suits her and her loss of innocence is well-reflected in the narrative. I would certainly recommend this book but warn that it is a heavy read. It’s not an easy book to get through at times and while even the hardest scenes are tastefully written, (truly want to thank the author for that), this is not a story you can simply close and put away once you’re finished, but rather one that lingers long after you’ve read the final words. I think maybe that is the point of it all, that Sally Horner’s stardust transcends and remains, even now, she won’t be forgotten.

Thank you to NetGalley and T. Greenwood’s publishers for allowing me an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review!

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