I waited all the way until February 1st to finish my first 5 star read of 2018. There was no need for me to wait that long. I had A Sky Full of Stars by Linda Williams Jackson in my house the whole month of January. But reader, sometimes I get scared about reading highly anticipated sequels to books I've loved. There was no need to worry though. A Sky Full of Stars is the perfect second half to Midnight Without a Moon.
Rose made the difficult decision to stay in Mississippi rather than go with her aunt to live in St. Louis. Now that the choice has been made, Rose must find the strength and courage to stand by her conviction that Stillwater is the place she needs to be. Her strength and courage become more difficult to find as reports of more deaths of black men at the hands of white men come in. Rose's best friend, Hallelujah, is ready to begin his own junior chapter of the NAACP and start peacefully protesting. Rose's first cousin Shorty has other, more violent ideas of ways they can fight back. As tensions rise in the community and in her own home, Rose has to find inventive ways to preserve the present and plan for the future.
The hard thing about sequels is that you already know and love the characters. There isn't that time you spend getting to know them because that work has been done. As a result, sequels are almost stressful from the beginning because of how concerned you are for the characters you already love. I felt that greatly reading this book. Rose and Hallelujah have become two of my favorite MG characters of all time and my concern for their continued emotional and physical well-being was high. They both do a lot of growing, changing, and learning in this book. The foundations of both their personalities were strong, and those foundations are built on in this book. Rose is told she is brave for staying behind in Mississippi, but she feels scared. She is terrified at the idea of risking herself even for a cause she knows is good and just. Hallelujah is full of fire and defiance, ready to take on the world. Through conflicts with each other, circumstances, and the greater society both gain perspective and learn a little balance. Shorty's character is fantastic addition to this mix. He acts as a foil and catalyst for both of them to learn things. He is fascinating in his own right as well and adds a new perspective on the events happening in the community. I also enjoyed getting to know Rose's Aunt Ruth and Hallelujah's Aunt Bertha better in this book. They are both great role models for Rose, though their lives are very different from each other.
The story follows events in Rose's life through the Fall of 1955 and ends at Christmas. There is a lot of history touched on. The Montgomery Bus Boycott starts, Rosa Parks becomes a name everyone knows, and there are references to Martin Luther King Jr. All of this is brought into the lives of the characters through other sources. Rose feels a world away and far removed from even in Alabama. In Rose's own community, tensions are still high from the acquittal of Emmett Till's murderers. Midnight Without a Moon didn't pull any punches with this history, but I feel like A Sky Full of Stars raised it a notch and was throwing fire on almost every page. And it is magnificent. I definitely cried harder during this book than any I've read recently. (And I cried hardest at a wonderful exchange between Rose and Hallelujah about faith and heroes.) As in the first book, the church community and Rose's faith play an important role in the story and her character development. Again, I loved how integral this was and that Jackson was able to fully explore it. Rose has doubts. She feels frustrated. She feels convicted. Her journey through all of that is a thing of beauty.
I was going to do a list of great quotes, but there are SO MANY. I couldn't choose. Just read the book. The underlying humor in these books plays a large part in why I like them so much too.
Fans of historical fiction should not miss out on these books. Whatever age you are, they are must reads.