‘Which Way is Camp’ highlights author’s spiritual and physical journey to find himself

Chris Banner

By A Contributor

Twelve-year-old Jean Holladay, nicknamed Bean, and her 15-year-old sister, Liz, find themselves on their own for several days in a small town in California.

Their mother, Charlotte, is convinced that she is just one break away from making it big in the music scene. Their family has moved around many times because Charlotte believed that moving to a new place would help her career.

They are living off of Charlotte’s inheritance; she comes from a well-known family in Virginia.

Charlotte isn’t the easiest person to live with; she has a hot temper and occasional meltdowns. After one of these tantrums, Charlotte disappears, and a few days later, the girls get a letter she sends from San Diego.

She sends them $200 to pay for food while she “finds herself.”

When a man in town gets suspicious and calls the police, Bean and Liz decide to go to Virginia to see their mother’s brother, Uncle Tinsley.

They take the bus cross country to Byler, Va. — a daunting adventure for the girls — and meet their uncle, a widower and an unusual man.

He lives in the dilapidated rural family mansion. Uncle Tinsley is set in his ways and doesn’t want to change very much in his life.

It takes him a while to get used to having two girls under his roof.

He fills in details of family history that the girls didn’t know.

The Holladay family used to own the cotton mill and pretty much owned the town, though they were good to the workers.

But about 10 years ago, foreign milling prices undercut U.S. mills, so Uncle Tinsley sold it. Also, Bean learns more about her father.

She and Liz have different fathers.

Charlotte divorced Liz’s father and then married the man who was to become Bean’s father, a mill worker named Charlie Wyatt.

Bean also meets her Aunt Al and Uncle Clarence and several cousins.

Before moving to Virginia, Bean thought her father had died in a mill accident but she learns he was shot defending Charlotte’s honor.

After he died, Charlotte and her parents didn’t get along, and she left her hometown.

Charlotte returns to Byler to take the girls to New York, where she plans to continue to seek her fortune.

They convince her to let them stay in Byler while she tries her luck in New York.

The girls decide that they need to get jobs to buy clothes and other things.

Uncle Tinsley doesn’t understand why they can’t wear their mother’s old clothes from years ago.

He doesn’t want them to get jobs, so they decide to not tell him.

They are both hired by Jerry Maddox, whom their uncle despises, to do “odd jobs” or to be his personal assistants.

It turns out their uncle was a great judge of character and the girls find out almost too late what type of man Maddox is.

Maddox sexually assaults Liz, and when the case goes to trial, it gets ugly.

Charlotte hurries home from New York as soon as she learns of the crisis.

Maddox, an influential man in the community, gets off, but justice is eventually served.

“The Silver Star” is a heartfelt story that leaves you thinking everything will eventually be all right. Bean as narrator brings to mind Scout in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

The author, Jeanette Walls, lives in Virginia with her husband.

She is also the author of the “Glass Castle,” a bestseller for more than six years.

Maggie Braun is a teacher at Manhattan High School and a Manhattan resident .

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