The Non-existent Romance
A Stranger Here, written by Thelma Hatch Wyss, is about a sixteen year old girl named Jada Sinclair who visits her relatives for the summer, and meets the infamous Starr Freeman, the one who died on the same day she was born. This novel takes place in the summer of 1960 and should appeal to those interested in the lives of small tight knit communities, and even if it is marketed for young adults, I doubt this novel will hold much appeal, especially in 2010. Published by HarperTrophy, ISBN: 0-06-447098-9 in 1993. This is historical and takes place in 1960s.
The characters are flat in my view. Minus one flaw Jada sounded a little too perfect; she is able to get along with her aunt and uncle, she is a romantic, keeps her promises and is a good listener. She doesn’t seem to go through any change. The only part I disliked about her is that she is very rude to the boy that likes her. “’What do you mean it doesn’t matter?’ Daniel followed Jada down the row…’I’ve been courting you since first grade.’ [Jada] ‘And you are wasting your time. Don’t you know that?’ (43) I should also add that Jada is hardworking and is obsessed with picking peas. The character of Jada’s paramour, Starr Freeman, we learn very little about him in the book, besides the fact that he died on the same day that Jada is born and that he was an aspiring artist and an only child. The real reason he visits Jada isn’t given. Despite the whimsical cover that promises more than it delivers, there is literally no chemistry and feelings are exchanged with what seems to be very casual attitude.
To be honest I have no idea of the theme for this novel, or rather I am having a difficult time in thinking of what have I learned while reading it? Probably the only theme that I can think of at the moment is that stories of people aren’t shallow and there is more to them than what meets the eye and the only thing that I found of interest in it is the dialogue of the minor characters, along with hope chests. I had no idea what they were or that they existed or what they were used for until I read the book. I found the scenes of nature to be beautiful as well, and the cover itself is a bonus, with Jada holding on to hyacinth while Starr Freedman lounges on the fountain in front of the willow tree. (This scene, I believe, occurs almost at the end.) But as mentioned earlier, the cover promises more than what it delivers.
I don’t think the plot was handled well, and not to mention the characters seemed to lack chemistry with one another. For me personally, there was no attraction between Jada and Starr, and between Daniel and Jada. The book did have an interesting premise and showed a lot of potential, but because it was short, for me it fell flat and quickly forgettable. The author really should have built more on this attraction between Jada and Starr and should have been more realistic as well. There seemed to be nothing besides a simple birth date to attract Jada to Starr. I should also mention that this is my second time reading the novel, and even in my first reading I quickly forgot of its existence and only remembered that I read it. If anyone was to ask me what was the conflict, reading the book straight I wouldn’t be even able to tell the conflict or anything like that about it. It only seemed to be about life and only one resolution existed at the end. Many things went unanswered in the end, which is frustrating.
Thelma Hatch Wyss also wrote Here at the Scenic-Vu Motel which won an ALA Best for Young adults award and she also wrote A tale of Gold and Bear Dancer and lives Salt City in Utah. Unfortunately not much information is given about her. (Besides A Stranger Here, I haven’t read the others she wrote.)
“Sixteen year old Jada Sinclair was resigned to spending a boring summer with Aunt May and Uncle Mac on their Idaho farm. That was before she found the old Victrola in the dusty ballroom, and awakened the spirit of Starr Freeman. When Starr appears, Jada feels an immediate connection to him. And no wonder. A war hero, Starr was shot down over the Pacific on the very day that Jada was born. Somehow, he knows everything about her: her name, her dreams, even her secret fear that she is not really her parents’ child. Starr makes Jada feel special. But as she finds herself falling for him, she can’t help but wonder: Why has he come back? And can help unravel the mystery of her past? “
In my view, the book could have been so much better than what it was. If it was longer, I wouldn’t have minded the length, if only to see some sort of real chemistry between Jada and Starr or Jada and Daniel. This book also has unrealistic reactions to the events. If one sees a ghost, then wouldn’t that person be afraid of them or something of the kind? And if a girl rejects a boy constantly, for years even, then the boy will move on, won’t he? Jada always seems to be cold towards Daniel, yet Daniel still hangs out with her. This book is written more for very young children and for one reason or another I am reminded of Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt when thinking of this novel. (Although Tuck Everlasting seemed much better than this novel.) I don’t think I’d recommend this book to anyone but small children actually. This might be something they will enjoy. When I read it as a seventh grader and I was in my early teens, I didn’t even like it back then, and I like the type of the ending that the book provides. (Because this is a book review, I cannot say what ending is that.)
In conclusion, if you decide to read it, then I hope you might like it or get something out of it that I couldn’t.
2 out 5 stars
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)