New Faces 3:
An interview with Lynn Hanna

 
The Starry Child by Lynn Hanna
(Onyx, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-451-40838-1
****
This is an extremely auspicious debut and a welcome addition to the fantasy romance genre. The Starry Child had some weaknesses, probably due to the author's inexperience, but overall it was a charming and interesting story. I could tell it was the author's first published novel, but I'm sure it won't be her last.

Rainey Nielson is struggling unsuccessfully to keep her life under control. Her beloved husband Alan died three years ago in a plane crash, and since then her eight-year old daughter Sasha has been mute. The girl has transferred from one special school to another due to her bizarre behavior. Every time there is a thunderstorm she climbs to a the highest available spot on top of a tree, a filing cabinet and refuses to come down. Now Sasha has just been expelled by her latest school, and a mad researcher is stalking her for his bizarre drug experiments. Rainey's job is hanging by a thread, and the child welfare authorities are investigating her fitness as a parent. Having exhausted all the rational medical and psychological treatments for Sasha's silence, Rainey is ready to give up.

But help comes from an unlikely source. Before her father's death, Sasha had her own imaginary language. When Rainey's elderly Scottish neighbor sees a videotape of Sasha's fifth birthday party, she tells Rainey that the girl is speaking an ancient form of Gaelic. She sends Rainey to seek the help of Matt MacInnes, a brilliant linguistics professor at Stanford. Although Rainey is initially mistrustful of another academic, she realizes that he is the only person who has the key to Sasha's silence and unusual behavior. It is all tied into an ancient Scottish fairy tale, and can only be resolved if Rainey and Sasha travel to the Scottish highlands to find the final answers.

The Starry Child earns a 4-heart rating because of its interesting plot and spirited yet tender romance between Rainey and Matt. Rainey's initial mistrust of Matt and cynicism about the paranormal are gradually overcome by Matt's persistence and dedication to Sasha. But Rainey has her own gifts for Matt, whose tragic loss years ago made him a self-exile from his Scottish home.

The novel does have a few glaring weaknesses. The mystery behind Sasha's silence is revealed by Matt as he tells Rainey about the fairy tale. It would have been more rewarding if the two had uncovered the truth together. The threat from the mad scientist who is plaguing Rainey at the start of the book is never alluded to after the trip to Scotland and seems a pointless addition to a full plot. And a confrontational scene with some incredibly one-dimensional villains is so gruesome it is almost comical.

I also have one major quibble that I admit is personal. In reality (and who's expecting reality from a book that includes talking fairies?) child welfare workers would never take Sasha away from Rainey just because the girl is behaving in a bizarre fashion. Unfortunately, the opposite is true even in cases of obvious physical abuse, it is often difficult to take a child away from the parent. Knowing this made it hard to take the child welfare threat in the story very seriously.

But the novel's strengths compensate for these beginner's flaws. Apparently a sequel to The Starry Child is already in the works, and I'll be eager to read it. I look forward to hearing more from this talented author who will no doubt produce even more rewarding books as she refines her craft.

--Susan Scribner

Meet this author! Check out our New Faces interview with Lynn Hanna.


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