The Prettiest Star by Carter Sickels

The Prettiest Star
Carter Sickels
Hub City Press
May 2020
ISBN: 978-1-938235-62-7
288 pages
HC: $27.00
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A haunting and gut-wrenching story that will take your heart out and put it back a dozen times.

Surrounded by an epidemic ignored by most of America, 24-year-old Brian, dying of AIDS while grieving the loss of his lover and many of his friends, decides to leave New York City and return to the home he fled years ago.

The Prettiest Star is the devastatingly beautiful story of this homecoming, told from the alternating perspectives of Brian, his guilt-ridden mother, and his teenage sister. The novel ricochets between sadness and salvation while telling the untold story of a generation of rural men who escaped their homes for the city, only to have to return to them to die.

Brian says in the opening pages of the novel, “Instead of killing myself, I wrote my parents a letter. I didn’t know what I was going to tell them. I’ve known guys who were sick and went back to small towns all over the country—upstate New York, Kansas, Florida, Kentucky—and never said a word about what was wrong. They went back to their hometowns and died from a mysterious illness.” Brian’s return home is fraught with anxiety and shame. His family decides to keep his condition a secret. His emotionally unavailable father even insists that his clothes and sheets are washed separately and that he use a special plate, cup, and silverware. But soon, the news of Brian’s sexuality and condition makes its way through the family, their conservative church, and their small town. His family must not only reckon with their community’s hysteria, but also their own biases, homophobia, and fear. Brian is mostly alone in mourning the loss of his lover and friends, while simultaneously mourning the loss of his youth and his own life. He is confused, sad, and scared, and we feel that fear with him to the end.

In David Bowie’s song of the same name, Bowie sings, “Staying back in your memory/ Are the movies in the past?/ How you moved is all it takes/ To sing a song of when I loved/ “The prettiest star.” The Prettiest Star by Carter Sickels is a gripping must-read that will stay “back in your memory” long after you put it down.

Jessica Salfia is a teacher, a writer, and an activist from Martinsburg, West Virginia. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post, the Charleston-Gazette Mail, West Virginia Living Magazine’s Blog, multiple volumes of the Anthology of Appalachian Writers, and she has had work selected for the Women of Appalachia Project. She is the co-editor of the book 55 Strong: Inside the West Virginia Teachers’ Strike out now from Belt Publishing. Jessica is the co-director of the West Virginia Council of Teachers of English, and currently is a teacher at Spring Mills High School in Martinsburg, West Virginia.