Paterson’s latest novel feels as if it should be very moving, with 11-year-old Angel’s attempts to keep her family together after her mother abandons her and her little brother Bernie at her great-grandma’s, but some of the scenes are too sparse and removed to reach the reader. The theme from the title, of star-watching and discovering the solar system in the night sky, is successful, and has Paterson’s familiar touch, with Angel bonding with the mysterious man who only seems to come out at night with his telescope.
When Angel is dumped at her great-grandma’s she learns more about her family and herself than she expects to. Angel’s father, Grandma’s grandson, is in prison, and her mother was very young when she had her. Grandma’s moments of revelation about her boys, the Vietnam war and her feelings of failure as a mother to boys give the book hope, but Angel’s mother’s long absence and her upside-down relationship with her daughter (‘I thought you was the grownup, baby. You always have been.’) make it seem a very long and hard road for Angel.
The Same Stuff as Stars raises issues about the American ‘correctional system’ and ‘the families whose lives are bound up in the system’ but doesn’t necessarily offer any solutions. However, readers ‘may take something like a star’ from Angel’s experiences.