In Draper's dedication, she mentions her grandmother's "memories in that journal." Without graphic exploitation or overly violent depictions, Draper honestly provides a story of life in the segregated South just prior to World War II. Stella, her parents, and her brother Jojo live "...in the rocky bottom of the Blue Ridge Mountains....Folks on Stella's side of town worked as maids and cooks, janitors and sharecropping farmers" (5). It was in that community that Stella and Jojo first witnessed those figures and their meeting across Kilkenny Pond.
Stella is a loveable narrator, totally believable. Her family's poverty is familiar and seems similar to many families, black and white, during the Depression. A hardworking student, Stella's greatest struggle at school is writing. When Stella's teacher, Mrs. Grayson, assigns a two-page " opinion piece" (54) on what Stella witnessed out by the pond, "Stella's stomach curled into knots" (54). It isn't long before Mrs. Grayson assigns Stella an F on that paper that she couldn't seem to finish and threatens to have a "...chat with your mama" (59).
Readers may connect to Stella's academic struggles while at the same time becoming involved in the conflicts that arise in the story as a result of the Klan's presence in Bumblebee. The historical fiction brings to light the arrival of the Spoon Man, a traveling salesman of his day bringing news and products to Stella's side of the tracks. The novel also reveals the disparity in education between the Mountain View School with its "...perfect-looking brick building with perfect-looking grass in the front" (34) for the white children, and the one-room Riverside School for Stella and all her friends. When Stella's mom needs a doctor after a snake bite, Dr. Packard refuses to treat her because she is black. When her father, Mr. Spencer, and Reverend Patton show up to register to vote, Stella and the reader witness the discrimination that they face as they are forced to pay a poll tax and take a literacy test.
Yet despite the injustice that Stella faces, there are characters that shine with humanity in her story. Mrs. Cooper who owns Cathy's Candy Store regularly does not distinguish between the black and white children who visit her shop each morning on their way to school. It is Mrs. Cooper who rushes to Tony's aid when he is accused of stealing candy by Johnny Ray and Max Smitherman, two grown men. The Summers' sisters and women of the Bumblebee Baptist Church offer food, clothing and supplies when Stella's neighbors, the Spencers, are faced with the loss of their home.
These moments of goodness are interspersed with the realities of Stella's life. Like any child today, she has dreams for her future. Stella sees herself as a reporter someday, hoping to be storyteller who preserves truth that reflects all people. Sharon Draper certainly manages to do that as well. Her stories have heart and purpose, and her characters resonate with readers regardless of the skin that binds them. For some, Stella by Starlight will be a mirror into their past; for others, it will be a reminder of pain and oppression. To young and old readers alike, I hope that it is an impetus for understanding, integrity, and compassion.