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Necklace of Stars

by Veronica Martenova Charles

Necklace of Stars is a story of the Andes, its present, past, and its role in myth and folklore. The present-day events involve Miguel, who lives in a mountain hut with his parents, the last remnant family of a community whose other members have moved to the city. Miguel is a solitary child, happy with solitary pursuits but curious about life beyond the mountains. From his father he learns of the past of his people “before the pale strangers came,” specifically of the legend of the submerged city and the ritual whereby one could retrieve the richness of this fabled paradise. Miguel finds the lake beneath which the city lies, performs the required ritual, and is invited to avail himself of its vast wealth. The catch is that he must leave his parents and move to the secret underwater world. The boy chooses real life and the true richness of his family and his native land.

This picture book has much to recommend it. Charles, in both text and illustration, captures and conveys the ancient dignity and beauty of the landscape. She paints the mountains in an abstract, highly textured manner, and they are visually the most interesting characters in the book. The folklore element, introduced as a story told by Miguel’s father, is neatly incorporated into the overall plot. The story as a whole, however, deflates at the end. Miguel loses all his curiosity about life in the city and, presumably, all his longing to go there. But the boy, in his fulfilling of ritual, has functioned as a mythological hero only. The young hero steps back from two thresholds – the entrance to the magic city and life beyond the mountains – and while this is sensible and appropriate from a realistic point of view, it doesn’t entirely work as story. To be home and enclosed by family is a perfectly satisfying end for a hero, but he has to have been on the quest first. Present-day concerns of urbanization muddy the waters of this otherwise quite magical tale.