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Rust & Stardust by T. Greenwood

BOTTOM LINE: SO difficult but so beautifully written and well-done.

Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication Date: 7 August 2018
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Synopsis from the Publisher:

“Camden, NJ, 1948. When 11-year-old Sally Horner steals a notebook from the local Woolworth’s, she has no way of knowing that 52-year-old Frank LaSalle, fresh out of prison, is watching her, preparing to make his move. Accosting her outside the store, Frank convinces Sally that he’s an FBI agent who can have her arrested in a minute—unless she does as he says.

This chilling novel traces the next two harrowing years as Frank mentally and physically assaults Sally while the two of them travel westward from Camden to San Jose, forever altering not only her life, but the lives of her family, friends, and those she meets along the way.

Based on the experiences of real-life kidnapping victim Sally Horner and her captor, whose story shocked the nation and inspired Vladimir Nabokov to write his controversial and iconic Lolita, this heart-pounding story by award-winning author T. Greenwood at last gives a voice to Sally herself.”

My Thoughts: There is a nonfiction account of Sally Horner’s story that is garnering a lot of media press lately, which is unfortunate because from what I have been hearing, it is not the greatest reading experience. It is also unfortunate that the nonfiction version is getting all of the publicity because T. Greenwood’s fictionalized version is so very, very good. With the freedom of fiction, Ms. Greenwood places us into the mind of Sally and that of her mother and sister so that they are once again alive and vibrant and telling their collective story so that all may know what happened during those lost years at the end of the 1940s.

Rust & Stardust is not an easy novel to read. While Ms. Greenwood does not get explicit in the forms of abuse Sally experiences, she provides enough contextual clues to understand just what is happening to Sally at any given time. This understanding is enough to turn your stomach and is most definitely a trigger for readers sensitive to pedophilia and other forms of child abuse. While it would be easy to say that such knowledge is not necessary to Sally’s story, Ms. Greenwood presents it in such a way to understand not only her experiences but also her frame of mind during and after her abduction. In turn, this helps frame her state of mind that leads to her ultimate fate. It may be some of the most difficult reading you might do, but it is vital reading if only to recognize the mental trauma such sustained abuse causes Sally and the strains placed on her relationships with her sister and mother as a result of her trauma.

Because of the sensitive nature of her subject, Ms. Greenwood tiptoes delicately through the grimier aspects of Sally’s story. She provides Sally with a modicum of privacy within her most horrific scenes. Some of this privacy is out of necessity if only because we truly have no idea what Sally thought or felt throughout her ordeal. However, even among those aspects of the story in which Ms. Greenwood had to utilize her imagination, her speculations are so realistic that you forget you are reading fiction. In point of fact, Ms. Greenwood’s diligent and very thorough research shines among the pages of Rust & Stardust so that you do not have to do any further research on your own. Adding to that is Ms. Greenwood’s ability to paint a picture, which is so good that you have no need to Google Sally and find the images to which Ms. Greenwood refers throughout the story.

To that end, Rust & Stardust is an excellent historical fiction novel specifically because Ms. Greenwood not only did her homework on her chosen subject but also presents it in such a way that blurs the line between fiction and reality. It is easy to forget that Sally’s story is real, that Sally herself was real, and that she did endure years of sexual, physical, and mental abuse at the hands of her abductor. That her story inspired Vladimir Nabokov only serves to make his classic story even more disturbing – because it forces us to realize that for all his rationalizations, Humbert Humbert really is a disgusting and depraved character, something not so easy to realize while reading it.

Sally’s story is a tough one, and there will be times you will set it aside thinking you cannot possibly get through it, but there is something so beautiful about Rust & Stardust that it bears continuing with it. Sally may have undergone horrific situations, but her family never gave up on her. They continued to search and pushed the police to continue their searches. They offered rewards, even though money was tight. They physically searched areas themselves. They fought, and Sally fought. That is the story worth telling and worth experiencing. That we should never succumb to what is happening to us but continue to fight to achieve our goals – whether they are to lose weight, travel more, or escape your abductor. For the many instances of a roiling stomach her story causes, Ms. Greenwood’s Rust & Stardust is a beautiful, sensitive novel that provides you more insight into the Horner family than a certain other nonfiction publication out on the shelves right now.

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