Adapted from her film Sundance/Samuel Goldwyn film, "To The Stars" the novel expands upon the film's characterizations and theme. Synopsis: Thanks to her "Terrible Shame," 17-year-old Iris Deerborne is doomed to forever be The Untouchable of WaKeeney, Kansas — a tiny farming town in the uncharitable Bible Belt, circa 1961. That is, until the day a new girl, Maggie Richmond, blows into town from the Big City! Maggie is beautiful, larger-than-life, and coveted by the most popular crowd. But it's Iris she's drawn to. Perhaps because Maggie has her own dark, shameful secret that will create a profound ripple effect in the tiny berg of WaKeeney. "To The Stars" is the story of two teen misfits brought together by pain to enter a transformative friendship that unspools in lovely, unexpected and even dangerous ways.
Traveling back to 1961, a time when being different in any way was alienating and even dangerous in a small town, Bradley-Colleary expertly delves into the hearts and minds of young people of the era, inviting readers to experience their painful feelings and small victories. Making the story even more personal, the narrator is a woman who fought–and lost–her battle with depression and loved Iris as a daughter. Bradley-Colleary opens with that narrator’s captivating account of her own suicide (“This is not a ghost story. But it is a story told by a ghost”).
Bradley-Colleary brings the town and characters to full, engaging life in this moving narrative. The pond central to the story exudes sadness, as the location of the narrator’s suicide, but also the sanctity and solace Iris feels there. Minute character details—the flick of a cigarette, the way one’s “slick black hair” is “rolled into a stylish mound the Frogs call a ‘chingon’”—speak volumes both about individual personalities and mid-century Kansas. Sometimes uncomfortable in the best ways, To the Stars will draw readers in. Expect to fall in love with Iris and Maggie.
Takeaway: A beautiful story of an unlikely small-town teen friendship that empowers when it’s needed most.
Great for fans of: Fiona Valpy’s The Dressmaker’s Gift, Mary Ellen Taylor’s Honeysuckle Season.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A
Written Shannon Bradley-Colleary, “To the Stars” is a dream place fleshed out with real world details by production designer Jonathan Guggenheim. Even the dusty road on Iris’ walk home seems to stretch for miles, with no end or beginning. Cinematographer Andrew Reed also weaves the dream, making the universe of “To the Stars” look like a frayed photograph out of the past. (Reed shot Aaron Katz’s slick 2017 neo-noir “Gemini,” and crewed on David Gordon Green’s “All the Real Girls,” making his gifts wide and vast.)
The arrival of Maggie into this postcard world becomes the element of chaos that disrupts that dream, eventually turning “To the Stars” into a moving parable of tolerance, and even something of a tearjerker. A pile-up of drama in the third act threatens to tear you out of that dream state in a not ideal way, as the movie was previously content to drift and languish in the wistful Oklahoma air and in the uncomplicated (until it is) friendship between Maggie and Iris.
Still, the movie’s topple into melodramatic excess is fitting for a film set in the 1960s, a time dominated by melodramas. And also like the cinema of the 1960s, there’s a grit and urgency to “To the Stars,” of something bigger and darker coming along with the changing times.