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The Prettiest Star

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A stunning novel about the bounds of family and redemption, shines light on an overlooked part of the AIDS epidemic when men returned to their rural communities to die, by Lambda Literary Emerging Writer Award-winning author Carter Sickels. • EW's 50 Most Anticipated Books of 2020 • O Magazine's "31 LGBTQ Books That'll Change the Literary Landscape in 2020" • BookRiot's "Most A stunning novel about the bounds of family and redemption, shines light on an overlooked part of the AIDS epidemic when men returned to their rural communities to die, by Lambda Literary Emerging Writer Award-winning author Carter Sickels. • EW's 50 Most Anticipated Books of 2020 • O Magazine's "31 LGBTQ Books That'll Change the Literary Landscape in 2020" • BookRiot's "Most Anticipated LGBTQ Books of 2020" • Atlanta Journal Constitution's "10 Southern Books We Can't Wait to Read in 2020" “From its opening sentences Carter Sickels’ The Prettiest Star makes it clear that too many queer narratives have been kept out of sight. Here a man returns to the town of his southern Ohio childhood at a point when his own day-to-day survival is at stake. Love doesn’t come in to save him, or the family and friends upended by his presence. ‘Nothing transforms, there is no magic,’ says one character, and while there’s darkness in those words, their down to earth candor does a lot to convey why this novel feels so touching, affecting, rebellious, and real.” —Paul Lisicky, author of Later: My Life at the Edge of the World Small-town Appalachia doesn't have a lot going for it, but it’s where Brian is from, where his family is, and where he’s chosen to return to die. At eighteen, Brian, like so many other promising young gay men, arrived in New York City without much more than a love for the freedom and release from his past that it promised. But within six short years, AIDS would claim his lover, his friends, and his future. With nothing left in New York but memories of death, Brian decides to write his mother a letter asking to come back to the place, and family, he was once so desperate to escape. Set in 1986, a year after Rock Hudson’s death shifted the public consciousness of the epidemic and brought the news of AIDS into living rooms and kitchens across America, The Prettiest Star is part Dog Years by Mark Doty and part Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. But it is also an urgent story now: it a novel about the politics and fragility of the body; it is a novel about sex and shame. And it is a novel that speaks to the question of what home and family means when we try to forge a life for ourselves in a world that can be harsh and unpredictable. It is written at the far reaches of love and understanding, and zeroes in on the moments where those two forces reach for each other, and sometimes touch.


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A stunning novel about the bounds of family and redemption, shines light on an overlooked part of the AIDS epidemic when men returned to their rural communities to die, by Lambda Literary Emerging Writer Award-winning author Carter Sickels. • EW's 50 Most Anticipated Books of 2020 • O Magazine's "31 LGBTQ Books That'll Change the Literary Landscape in 2020" • BookRiot's "Most A stunning novel about the bounds of family and redemption, shines light on an overlooked part of the AIDS epidemic when men returned to their rural communities to die, by Lambda Literary Emerging Writer Award-winning author Carter Sickels. • EW's 50 Most Anticipated Books of 2020 • O Magazine's "31 LGBTQ Books That'll Change the Literary Landscape in 2020" • BookRiot's "Most Anticipated LGBTQ Books of 2020" • Atlanta Journal Constitution's "10 Southern Books We Can't Wait to Read in 2020" “From its opening sentences Carter Sickels’ The Prettiest Star makes it clear that too many queer narratives have been kept out of sight. Here a man returns to the town of his southern Ohio childhood at a point when his own day-to-day survival is at stake. Love doesn’t come in to save him, or the family and friends upended by his presence. ‘Nothing transforms, there is no magic,’ says one character, and while there’s darkness in those words, their down to earth candor does a lot to convey why this novel feels so touching, affecting, rebellious, and real.” —Paul Lisicky, author of Later: My Life at the Edge of the World Small-town Appalachia doesn't have a lot going for it, but it’s where Brian is from, where his family is, and where he’s chosen to return to die. At eighteen, Brian, like so many other promising young gay men, arrived in New York City without much more than a love for the freedom and release from his past that it promised. But within six short years, AIDS would claim his lover, his friends, and his future. With nothing left in New York but memories of death, Brian decides to write his mother a letter asking to come back to the place, and family, he was once so desperate to escape. Set in 1986, a year after Rock Hudson’s death shifted the public consciousness of the epidemic and brought the news of AIDS into living rooms and kitchens across America, The Prettiest Star is part Dog Years by Mark Doty and part Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. But it is also an urgent story now: it a novel about the politics and fragility of the body; it is a novel about sex and shame. And it is a novel that speaks to the question of what home and family means when we try to forge a life for ourselves in a world that can be harsh and unpredictable. It is written at the far reaches of love and understanding, and zeroes in on the moments where those two forces reach for each other, and sometimes touch.

30 review for The Prettiest Star

  1. 4 out of 5

    Larry H

    Wow, Carter Sickels. Your gorgeous new book utterly undid me. "We live our lives not realizing which moments are special or which are ordinary—what will we remember, what memories will we try to grab onto, to hold close? All of these moments that make up a life." It’s 1986, in the heart of the AIDS crisis. Six years ago Brian left his small, suffocating Ohio hometown for the freedom of NYC. He had the opportunity to live the life he wanted, to be who he wanted without worrying what others think. H Wow, Carter Sickels. Your gorgeous new book utterly undid me. "We live our lives not realizing which moments are special or which are ordinary—what will we remember, what memories will we try to grab onto, to hold close? All of these moments that make up a life." It’s 1986, in the heart of the AIDS crisis. Six years ago Brian left his small, suffocating Ohio hometown for the freedom of NYC. He had the opportunity to live the life he wanted, to be who he wanted without worrying what others think. He was finally free of fighting with his father, knowing he was different than everyone expected him to be. Now, AIDS has taken his boyfriend and many of his friends, and he faces the same scary journey. He writes a letter to his mother telling her of his diagnosis and that he wishes to come home and visit. That visit causes numerous ripples—for his parents, who just want to keep him and his condition a secret; his teenage sister; the rest of his family, whose ignorance and fear is indicative of the mood of the country at that time; his grandmother, whose unconditional love is a beacon amidst chaos; and the entire town, which comes unhinged with one simple act. This is a beautifully written, emotional book, perfectly capturing the struggles so many people with AIDS had to deal with, especially in the 80s. It’s a story about coming to terms with your life and its impending end, and how fear can change people you love yet others will surprise. It's also a powerful story about love, family, and friendship, which sometimes comes from the unlikeliest of people. Sickels has truly created a masterpiece that I read in one sitting. It moved me beyond belief and I’m so glad I read it. This will easily be one of the best books I'll read all year. Another book read for Pride Reads! Check out my list of the best books I read in 2019 at https://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com/2020/01/the-best-books-i-read-in-2019.html. Check out my list of the best books of the decade at https://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com/2020/01/my-favorite-books-of-decade.html. See all of my reviews at itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com. Follow me on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/the.bookishworld.of.yrralh/.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Nataliya

    “AIDS is a story of America, he said. It’s a story that must be told.” It’s a haunting, devastating and heartbreaking story. It’s been a few days since I finished it, and I’m still shaken up and raw with emotions - and very very angry. It’s stunning and beautiful and shattering and utterly devastating. This is a story of the time that we should never forget. It’s the story of the time of horrendous initial impact of HIV/AIDS, the devastation and pain and stigma it caused, and the resultant tr “AIDS is a story of America, he said. It’s a story that must be told.” It’s a haunting, devastating and heartbreaking story. It’s been a few days since I finished it, and I’m still shaken up and raw with emotions - and very very angry. It’s stunning and beautiful and shattering and utterly devastating. This is a story of the time that we should never forget. It’s the story of the time of horrendous initial impact of HIV/AIDS, the devastation and pain and stigma it caused, and the resultant tragedy not only of death but of fear and hate masquerading as sickening “righteousness”. “In AIDS years, does age even matter? Before New York the only funeral he’d ever been to was his grandfather’s, a man he hardly knew. In the last two years he’s been to nine—all men between twenty-five and forty-five. How many others does he know who are sick? They don’t always tell each other. He doesn’t want to go to any more funerals.” It’s 1986. Thousands of mostly young and formerly healthy lives have been lost in the devastating epidemic at this point still largely ignored by the government and viewed as “God’s way” of scourging the sinners - the ones who dared to love “unconventionally” - by all those self-righteous, small-minded , intolerant and very afraid, those hearing of the sins and the punishments for those who see the “otherness” and not the people. “It’s hard to believe when we’re all dying and everyone’s telling you this is part of God’s plan.” Brian is only 24, and he knows he is dying. Six years ago he left his tiny rural Ohio hometown for New York where he was finally able to live openly and happily, be himself, accept his sexuality and find his new *chosen* family that accepts him as he is. “I remembered, before AIDS, when young, healthy, handsome men just didn’t die. I remember—barely—a time when all of us weren’t so sad or scared.” But by 1986 most of his friends have died or are dying, his boyfriend has died from AIDS, and Brian has just a few months left himself. Brian knows he is dying, too - and he makes a decision to leave the place that he used to love but that now is a graveyard to him, and return to his estranged family before he dies. And the small-town America rises up to fight him for daring to upset their stodgy lives with his existence. It’s the fear of the unknown and willful ignorance. It’s the hatred of the “other” and almost perverse prurience with which they focus on Brian’s sexuality. It’s the shame and fear of the judgement of others that preoccupies almost everyone in the family. It’s the in-your-face self-satisfied immovable gloating self-righteousness to the most sickening degree. “Sometimes I burn with anger, and I want to fight, to be seen. But most of the time, I’m just scared or tired. On my worst days, I feel the shame most of the world wants me to feel. I understand why my parents don’t want people to know, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t fucking hurt.” I could not stop thinking about the value of the *chosen* family over the blood family for Brian - and for many of us. Brian’s blood family has failed him. With exception of his grandmother, the rest are paralyzed by fear of judgement and disease, the prejudice and the shame and the lack of acceptance of their son, brother, nephew, cousin. “Still, I’ve heard worse. Parents who refuse to touch their son, who make him eat in a separate room, who do not visit him on his death bed, who bleach whatever he touches, who do not claim his body from the morgue. Could be worse.” It is instead a small group of people - the chosen family - who rise up to the occasion and step up to help the lonely and afraid - and so very young - dying man. His former roommate Annie who has seen so many of her friends die from AIDS already. his grandmother Lettie who, unlike the rest of Brian’s kin sees him as a person she loves instead of a scary “other”. Andrew, a local openly gay man who extends support and comfort when nobody else does - and who does not think twice about helping with the bodily horrors of advanced AIDS illnesses. “I could have swam to the bottom. Could have drowned in the Hudson. But I came back here. Why? Why does anyone go home? You come back to be seen, to be accepted, and to be loved.” All while the rest of the family are distant and retreated behind the formidable walls of entrenched shame and prejudice and fear and stigma. The relatives, neighbors, former friends — they all are guided by fear and hate and severe homophobia and complete blind refusal to think and understand. The father is not there even for the death - and that kind of closedmindedness and prejudice is a tragedy in itself. “But, Shawn—he wanted me to document the harder stuff. Even wanted me to record him in the hospital, dying. I couldn’t do it. I didn’t understand then, but I think I do now. The world is ignoring us. We’ve got to document, even if it’s just me talking to the camera in my parents’ basement. At least I’m here. A face, a voice. The world wants to silence and disappear us. Well, here I am. Look at me.” It’s the story of the time that we must remember, a story of the time so dark it’s hard to believe it was not of the Dark Ages. We have to remember - or learn - the sadness and anger and the horror of “othering” based on nothing but prejudice. I loved it, even when I had to put it down for a few hours at a time because my heart hurt too much to keep reading, even when I cried and when I was looking for a wall to punch in anger. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking and one of those books that will stay with me probably forever. 5 stars. 5 brightest, prettiest stars. “We live our lives not realizing which moments are special or which are ordinary—what will we remember, what memories will we try to grab onto, to hold close? All of these moments that make up a life.”

  3. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Another elegiac novel about the height of the AIDS epidemic in America, this one set in a small Ohioan town, where Brian, an artsy white gay, returns from New York to his estranged family in the wake of his Black lover’s death and his own diagnosis as HIV positive. The story is told from the viewpoints of Brian, his 14-year-old sister, and his middle-aged mother, who all sound strikingly similar to each other, and centers on the hate the family’s flooded with when the bigoted townsfolk learn of Another elegiac novel about the height of the AIDS epidemic in America, this one set in a small Ohioan town, where Brian, an artsy white gay, returns from New York to his estranged family in the wake of his Black lover’s death and his own diagnosis as HIV positive. The story is told from the viewpoints of Brian, his 14-year-old sister, and his middle-aged mother, who all sound strikingly similar to each other, and centers on the hate the family’s flooded with when the bigoted townsfolk learn of Brian’s illness; at its best the novel loudly takes up the twin questions of what it means to be marginalized and unlearn forms of hate. But why Brian visits his hometown—and then stays—is never clear. That he has a chosen family back in the city makes his choice to weather out abuse in rural America even more perplexing. The premise feels like a stretch, but the novel’s resonated with many on here and could be worth checking out.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Dominic

    Second reading, May 2020. I want to teach this book. *The Prettiest Star* is a tender, emotional story about a fraught homecoming but it is boiling with rage beneath the surface. It tells the story of a young man named Brian in 1986, who comes home to small town Ohio and the parents who rejected him for being gay. Brian, HIV-positive and grieving his partner's death, only tells a fraction of the story, though; most of the story is narrated by his mother and younger sister, and Sickles makes the Second reading, May 2020. I want to teach this book. *The Prettiest Star* is a tender, emotional story about a fraught homecoming but it is boiling with rage beneath the surface. It tells the story of a young man named Brian in 1986, who comes home to small town Ohio and the parents who rejected him for being gay. Brian, HIV-positive and grieving his partner's death, only tells a fraction of the story, though; most of the story is narrated by his mother and younger sister, and Sickles makes the story as much about human transformation and the softening of the heart as a history lesson of a difficult time. The story had me in tears and pushed me into a delicious anger. It boils my blood to think that a parent could reject their own child--especially on the grounds of prejudice against something one just doesn't understand. It boils my blood how our country did so little for men like Brian. If you don't follow the @theaidsmemorial  on Instagram then you're missing out on glimpses into the courage and beauty of human love and bravery in light of one of the greatest scourges on this country's history. I've committed myself to learning as much as I can about the AIDS epidemic in America, knowing that 1) it nearly irrevocably complicated and stymied my self-knowledge and coming of age around my own queerness, and 2) it was a holocaust in my lifetime and in my country and I didn't even know--and I still wouldn't know (!!) if not for books like *Christodora* and *Angels in America* and now *The Prettiest Star*--the last of which may be the most accessible and most relatable to the widest audience. The entire second half of this book had me feeling rage and empathy and sadness and love. I can't wait to see this book out in the world and in the hands of my loved ones. I hope it gets people thinking about what it really means to be a family and mends relationships. I believe this story has that power.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Paris (parisperusing)

    Honestly one of the best LGBTQ+ books I’ve read this year, by a truly gifted writer. This story was a heartbreaker but it’s so much larger than that. It feels eerily reminiscent to the hate and bigotry so many people like us — queer, POC, minorities — are assaulted with today. It’s also a story of how laying claim to one’s identity can sever a family, erupt a town and its people. Fuck, this was everything. (Cleaner, comprehensive review to come!)

  6. 4 out of 5

    Travis Foster

    The Library Journal's review complained that this book's depiction of small-town bigotry is too extreme to be believable -- to which I can only say, hell no. It's exactly right, painfully realistic.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Schulman

    From the beginning of AIDS literature in the 1980'. through to its current literary subject revival, the reality of familial homophobia has been hidden or downplayed. Parents have been depicted - to great acclaim- as heroically overcoming their prejudices, as loving, learning, appropriate, and doing the best they can. At the same time, over the last 40 years of representation, essential works that tell the truth about familial cruelty, the self-aggrandizing exclusion, the poisonous 'tolerance', From the beginning of AIDS literature in the 1980'. through to its current literary subject revival, the reality of familial homophobia has been hidden or downplayed. Parents have been depicted - to great acclaim- as heroically overcoming their prejudices, as loving, learning, appropriate, and doing the best they can. At the same time, over the last 40 years of representation, essential works that tell the truth about familial cruelty, the self-aggrandizing exclusion, the poisonous 'tolerance', these works have been relegated to the margins, from Joe Westmoreland's TRAMPS LIKE US to Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore's SKETCHTASY. Reward for the sugar coated lie coexists with the punishment of exile for the reality. Because of lack of services, thousands of people with AIDS, like Brian, the hero of this truthful, deep and revelatory novel, were thrown on the mercy of their hostile and uncomprehending families and home towns who didn't want them and let them know. The terrible abandonment of gay people and people with AIDS. and the consequences of this on our collective emotional lives and relationships is the story that we need in order to understand who we really are. All of us. I am so grateful to Carter Sickels and Hub City Press for giving us the gift of The Prettiest Star.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jaclyn (sixminutesforme)

    I knew going into this one that it'd be a heartbreaking read - the blurb tells us that Brian is moving back from NYC to his hometown in Appalachian Ohio to die. Like many of friends and his partner who have already passed, Brian has AIDS. Given that the trajectory of the narrative felt set by this going in, I was curious how the narrative would be delivered and the particular issues Sickels would highlight within it. The narrative alternates between Brian and several of his family members, inclu I knew going into this one that it'd be a heartbreaking read - the blurb tells us that Brian is moving back from NYC to his hometown in Appalachian Ohio to die. Like many of friends and his partner who have already passed, Brian has AIDS. Given that the trajectory of the narrative felt set by this going in, I was curious how the narrative would be delivered and the particular issues Sickels would highlight within it. The narrative alternates between Brian and several of his family members, including his mom and sister. As a reader I felt an intimacy in the writing that made the setting and characters seem so vivid in my imagination, and allowed for a well-rounded exploration of the individual and community reactions to Brian and AIDS and the queer community more broadly. There was so much intention in where this narrative was set and the added layer this brought to the discussions it starts around these issues and themes. I found Brian's chapters incredibly moving to read - his are delivered in the form of video recordings he made at the time, shots of his life in NYC and during his time back home in Ohio, reflections on his relationships and his grappling with what is happening in his community and to his own life. The Bowie and other song references, particularly the title chapter, were striking and more than once I found myself playing them when mentioned in the narrative while I read along. Cannot recommend this one enough, it was both devastating and beautiful and one I look forward to seeing other readers respond to. Many thanks to @kdwinchester and @matthewsciarappa for the recommendation to pick this one up, and the Hub City for sending me an advance copy to read.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    I started this Sunday night intending to make it the last read of the month, but couldn't put it down. Carter Sickels captures what the AIDS epidemic looked like in rural American through the character of Brian, who returns home in 1986 to Appalachian Ohio after most of his friends have died, including his boyfriend. His family doesn't even want their neighbors to know he is gay, much less that he has AIDS, and the lack of understanding of the disease causes its own list of problems. The chapter I started this Sunday night intending to make it the last read of the month, but couldn't put it down. Carter Sickels captures what the AIDS epidemic looked like in rural American through the character of Brian, who returns home in 1986 to Appalachian Ohio after most of his friends have died, including his boyfriend. His family doesn't even want their neighbors to know he is gay, much less that he has AIDS, and the lack of understanding of the disease causes its own list of problems. The chapters rotate between characters in the family, from the mother who is torn between her husband and her son, to the sister who was a child when he left, to the awesome grandma who has always been his number one champion. There are other memorable characters in the novel, from the many Karen's who make life miserable for the entire family, to a youth minister that is way too intimate with the teens in the community to the extended family in the area. And the town is memorable too.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Erik

    Carter Sickels' "The Prettiest Star" is an AIDS story that we have needed, that has been missing, and that will remind you about where we have come from. Sickels tells the story of Brian, a 24 year old boy diagnosed with AIDS in New York City in 1986. His boyfriend, Shawn, recently a victim himself of AIDS has died and Brian makes the dreaded decision to move back home to live with his parents in their small town at the foothills of Appalachia in southern Ohio. For the first time in 6 years he en Carter Sickels' "The Prettiest Star" is an AIDS story that we have needed, that has been missing, and that will remind you about where we have come from. Sickels tells the story of Brian, a 24 year old boy diagnosed with AIDS in New York City in 1986. His boyfriend, Shawn, recently a victim himself of AIDS has died and Brian makes the dreaded decision to move back home to live with his parents in their small town at the foothills of Appalachia in southern Ohio. For the first time in 6 years he engages with a family that doesn't know what to do with him, a community that openly despises him, and a few characters who love and care for him. Challenging the status quo in hopes of changing hearts, Brian uses the twilight of his life to affect his community and his family. The story itself is unique and necessary - so few stories exist about those PWAs who went home to their rural communities to die, often alone. And many did. But I am not convinced Sickels picked the best way to tell the story. The chapters cycle between the first-person perspectives of Brian, his sister, and his mother. I believe this was an attempt to make the characters more emotionally accessible - to save them from an easy demonization. But unfortunately, it made the characters feel flat often. Sickels' strength is not in first-person prose - it feels juvenile often. But in those portions of the book where he manages to escape this and to really tell the emotion of the story: it's like a fire being set free. He can write your feelings for sure! All in all, "The Prettiest Star" is a book that will bring you to tears and connect with you on so many levels, and for that reason, and because of the novel story it tells, I have to recommend it.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Charlotte

    When I finished reading this book, I had to just set it aside for a while before writing my review. It wasn't that I was going to have difficulty writing a review... I just wanted to sit with all the emotions that it brought up for me. Full disclosure: I ran a consumer-driven AIDS support organization for over a decade so this book depicts a time I'm intimately familiar with. Sickels has written a stunning novel that is important and relevant. This book is written from several points of view. At When I finished reading this book, I had to just set it aside for a while before writing my review. It wasn't that I was going to have difficulty writing a review... I just wanted to sit with all the emotions that it brought up for me. Full disclosure: I ran a consumer-driven AIDS support organization for over a decade so this book depicts a time I'm intimately familiar with. Sickels has written a stunning novel that is important and relevant. This book is written from several points of view. At the very beginning of the book, the reader is introduced to Brian. Brian has lost his lover to AIDS, most of his friends, his career dreams and his health and he's contemplating putting an end to it all. He doesn't attempt to end his life; he returns to the home he fled right after high school. Set in the late 80s, early years in the battle against AIDS, Brian is returning home to a town that knows nothing about HIV and AIDS. He's returning to the subtle and blatant homophobia he fled. He's returning to a family that hardly knows him. Brian's mother, Sharon and his sister Jess also take the reigns of this story from time to time. It's never jarring and it always weaves more detail into the strange tapestry of Brian's family. One of the most poignant POVs in the novel is the voice of the videos that Brian continues to film. He picked up a camera when he moved to New York... and he promised his dying lover that he would continue to document. He documents even if he doesn't always seem certain what he's supposed to be capturing. There is some subtle beautiful, fear and shame in all the words that come from Brian. He's a remarkable, authentic character. I suppose this book is about shame in all its incarnations. There's shame in sex... something that once brought so much pleasure and now seems responsible for a deadly illness. There's shame in being born in a way that doesn't fit with the people around you. There's the shame of a family as they struggle to come to terms with sexuality and illness. Most poignant for me probably was the relationship - or lack thereof - between Brian and his father Travis. Sickels does a remarkable job of portraying the confusion, pain, anger, and fear that contributes to homophobia within the confines of an otherwise loving family. Brian goes home... without even really knowing what he's seeking. I think part of this story is about family, and home and what those two things are. And once Brian is at home... it's another gay man named Andrew who steps in to care for him. It's a touching relationship that builds between the two men, a relationship based on the common ground of chosen family... the people who step in when everyone else is frozen with fear. There is a moment of clarity between Andrew and Brian's mother deep in the book that absolutely struck a chord in me. Sharon is a mother who has lost her way and it takes an almost-stranger to try and lead her in the right direction. "I don't want to put you out. You don't have to do this." Andrew neatly folds the towel and drapes it over the counter. "Yes, I do. I have to, and so do you. It's the only option." He looks at me, serious and clear-eyed. "This is the only thing we have to do. Take care of him." I could pull many quotes from this book to show you the eloquence and beauty of Sickel's writing, but I would rather you read the book and draw your own conclusions. This book is vital. The further we move away from the initial impact of HIV/AIDS and the horrendous loss of life that resulted, the less defined our memory of the time becomes. We mustn't forget what happened. We can't afford to forget that many people still live daily with the kind of homophobia and bigotry that is nestled so peacefully in some families under the guise of being "righteous".

  12. 4 out of 5

    Doug

    3.5, rounded up. I'm a trifle embarrassed I didn't know the title refers to a Bowie song, and I had to YouTube it to get its significance. And the book as a whole did a fine job at telling its underreported storyline (about those men who returned to their rural homes to die from AIDS in the early days of that pandemic). But it kind of went exactly where one would expect, in serviceable, but rarely transcendent prose, and an AIDS novel that doesn't make one weep is rather beside the point (or mayb 3.5, rounded up. I'm a trifle embarrassed I didn't know the title refers to a Bowie song, and I had to YouTube it to get its significance. And the book as a whole did a fine job at telling its underreported storyline (about those men who returned to their rural homes to die from AIDS in the early days of that pandemic). But it kind of went exactly where one would expect, in serviceable, but rarely transcendent prose, and an AIDS novel that doesn't make one weep is rather beside the point (or maybe I'm just hard-hearted or immune to such by now). Although the author cites numerous works he used in researching the topic, he appears too young to have been more than a child in 1986, and to me the book lacked the immediacy/intricacy of those first-hand accounts. Not sorry I read it, though, and will be interested in seeing where the author goes next... and the cover art is terrific. (PS on pronoun usage: Although I've seen the author referred to as 'they' in various reviews and interviews, 'he' is used at the author's own website, so I have done likewise.)

  13. 5 out of 5

    Robby Harrington

    THE PLOT: The Prettiest Star is a heart-breakingly beautiful story that takes place in the early 80s, at the beginning of the AIDS/HIV epidemic when vast numbers of gay men—particularly those in highly populated cities—began dying at increasing rates from the mysterious disease. The story is about a young man, Brian—a handsome blond hair, blue eyed boy living in a small town of Chester, Ohio—who, after graduating high school, leaves his family and friends behind to move to New York and pursue hi THE PLOT: The Prettiest Star is a heart-breakingly beautiful story that takes place in the early 80s, at the beginning of the AIDS/HIV epidemic when vast numbers of gay men—particularly those in highly populated cities—began dying at increasing rates from the mysterious disease. The story is about a young man, Brian—a handsome blond hair, blue eyed boy living in a small town of Chester, Ohio—who, after graduating high school, leaves his family and friends behind to move to New York and pursue his dreams. Upon settling in New York, he cautiously begins going to gay clubs and meeting other gay men. Soon after, Brian unknowingly contracts HIV, as do several of his friends, and over the next six years, nearly all of the people closest to Brian, including his beloved boyfriend Shawn, have passed away. Now 24, sick and alone—with the exception of his best friend, Annie—Brian decides to move back home to his small town of Chester, Ohio to spend the rest of his days with his family, who he hasn’t seen since he left. How will his family cope with the fact that their beautiful son is gay but also has AIDS and how will the town react when they find out? WHAT I LIKED: I read nearly all of The Prettiest Star in a single day; I truly couldn’t put it down. It is a beautifully written work of fiction that is centered around real life events that have long been overlooked; when in the 80s, men who contracted AIDS would moved back home to their small, rural communities to die and would be forced to face ridicule, shame, harassment and hate not only from the people in their town but also from their family. It’s a time in the not too distant past when the majority of people thought that AIDS was God’s way of dealing with homosexuals. Being a gay man myself and coming from a small town in Northern Minnesota, I strongly felt I could relate to this story and the characters. This book bubbled several vivid feelings to the surface; at times I was frustrated, I got angry and I bawled like a baby. At one point, I literally had to put the book down and step away for a little while only to pick it up 30 minutes later and finish the rest in one sitting. I loved this book. Not only was it expertly written, I felt like the characters were not only impeccably described, they carefully created to serve a specific purpose to the story; I didn’t feel like a single character was non-essential. WHAT I DIDN’T LOVE: Honestly, what I didn’t love about the book, in a sense, is what I loved most about this book. When some of the family and the entire town turn their back on Brian and ridicule him, I desperately wanted someone to speak up and defend him. I ached for his mom Sharon to hug him and tell him she loved him, in my head I begged for his younger sister Jess to tell her classmates off who continued to say hateful things about Brian and I desperately needed his dad, Travis, to open up and be there for him. Most of that never happened and it broke my heart but at the same time, it made the story feel real and I think that’s important. All stories can’t have happy endings. What I appreciated most about this book is that it made me feel two sets of dissonant emotions: On one hand, I felt angry and frustrated with his family for not being kinder to him and not loving and supporting him more but on the other hand I empathize with them. What must it have felt like to have been abandoned by your son one day without any notice, to find out via a letter months later that he is gay without even any opportunity to have a face-to-face dialogue about it and to also find out via letter that your son is dying of AIDS and after being gone for several years without any meaningful contact, now asks to move back home to be taken care of. THE VERDICT: I absolutely loved this book. Any book that can make you feel emotions so strongly and helps shift your perspective is an exceptional book and The Prettiest Star did that for me. I hope everyone reads and loves this book as much as I did.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Kyle Smith

    I anxiously awaited this book’s arrival, and it didn’t disappoint. It was heartbreakingly tragic in so many ways, and I’m sure the story will linger in my thoughts for quite some time.

  15. 4 out of 5

    nastyako

    This is such a beautiful book. I was glued to the page and wanted to find out what’s next. I felt sorrow and anger for Brian. This book in spite of the subject-matter is not at all manipulative and I respected author for this. He believes in your empathy as a reader and doesn’t try to make you cry with manipulative scenes. The situation is sad and desperate enough, sadder considering its realism. There were no grand speeches or forgiveness or comeuppance for the villains. This book is not a mise This is such a beautiful book. I was glued to the page and wanted to find out what’s next. I felt sorrow and anger for Brian. This book in spite of the subject-matter is not at all manipulative and I respected author for this. He believes in your empathy as a reader and doesn’t try to make you cry with manipulative scenes. The situation is sad and desperate enough, sadder considering its realism. There were no grand speeches or forgiveness or comeuppance for the villains. This book is not a misery porn like it could have been in less skilled hands. And yes, I cried.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Janelle Janson

    WOW

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jamie

    Fuck. This one HURT. I have never read anything like this book before. It takes place in 1986 during the AIDS epidemic and follows Brian, a 24 year-old who moved from INCREDIBLY small-town Ohio to New York after high school. When AIDS swept through New York and took his boyfriend (not a spoiler - you learn this in Chapter 1) & Brian tests positive, he moves back home to Ohio. This book chronicles the struggles of the LGBTQ+ community during this time in such a real way. The prejudice was so real, e Fuck. This one HURT. I have never read anything like this book before. It takes place in 1986 during the AIDS epidemic and follows Brian, a 24 year-old who moved from INCREDIBLY small-town Ohio to New York after high school. When AIDS swept through New York and took his boyfriend (not a spoiler - you learn this in Chapter 1) & Brian tests positive, he moves back home to Ohio. This book chronicles the struggles of the LGBTQ+ community during this time in such a real way. The prejudice was so real, especially in a rural, God-fearing town. I felt Brian in my soul as I read this. It was so incredibly powerful & raw that I found myself wondering who Brian’s story was based on. It seemed THAT authentic & close to what I imagine reality was like for them. Brian’s story was all of their stories. Thank you, @carter_sickels. Without question, an A+ from me. I’ll be reeling from this one for a while. The ultimate book hangover. What was the last book that left you feeling like this? Read if you like: * Historical fiction * LGBTQ+ 🏳️‍🌈 stories * Multiple POVs * A story leaving you needing to read everything you can about another time in history * I literally have no similar book comparisons. Just read it.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Dickerson

    This book ripped me into a million pieces. I am still processing... beautifully written.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Staci

    This is the second novel I’ve read about the AIDS epidemic in the 80s (the first one was The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai). This novel was MUCH better. The Prettiest Star is told from three primary perspectives and they were all done extremely well. Brian’s perspective is told through video journal entries. We get a snapshot of his life in New York - his boyfriend Shawn, his friends dying one after another, his anger at being shamed for living his life and at dying young. The second perspect This is the second novel I’ve read about the AIDS epidemic in the 80s (the first one was The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai). This novel was MUCH better. The Prettiest Star is told from three primary perspectives and they were all done extremely well. Brian’s perspective is told through video journal entries. We get a snapshot of his life in New York - his boyfriend Shawn, his friends dying one after another, his anger at being shamed for living his life and at dying young. The second perspective is Sharon, Brian’s mother. She is mostly unsure of how the deal with Brian - his homosexuality and his illness. She is guilt ridden as a result of this and heartbroken that she hasn’t been there for her son, or loved him the way she knows she should have. There were times when I want to just give her a big hug but other times (many other times) that I wanted to shake her. Jess is Brian’s 14 year old sister and nobody seems to think it’s important to really talk to her about what’s going on. She’s confused, angry and sad and mostly doesn’t know what to do with all of that ... very believable for a teenager in this situation. I would highly recommend this one. It’s raw and insightful and, a lot of the time, ugly.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Walter Neto

    As I finished this, a The New York Times' article on the AIDS pandemic came to my mind. It has no more than two paragraphs and it appears at the bottom of the page 18 of the aforementioned issue; "over 100,000 had die from AIDS complications." No names, no nothing. The article was published on 1991 and up to now, no apologies or something by the NYT or the US government had been made. Perhaps, this is why people write and people read books like The Prettiest Star, to hear at least for a brief mo As I finished this, a The New York Times' article on the AIDS pandemic came to my mind. It has no more than two paragraphs and it appears at the bottom of the page 18 of the aforementioned issue; "over 100,000 had die from AIDS complications." No names, no nothing. The article was published on 1991 and up to now, no apologies or something by the NYT or the US government had been made. Perhaps, this is why people write and people read books like The Prettiest Star, to hear at least for a brief moment the voice of the voiceless. To look for an alternative history, not the one with a capital H, but the one that never gets to the history books. The Prettiest Star is great when it lets its main character, Brian, speak and mourn his ghosts. The ghost of all the men he met, kissed, and loved. Or simply, men that are like him, forced to flee their homes and tried to form some community of their own. I think of Avery F. Gordon who said: "To look for lessons about hunting when there are thousands of ghosts; when entire societies become hunted by terrible deeds that are systematically occurring and are simultaneously denied by every public organ of governance." And then, I think that sometimes the only thing that cannot be taken away from a person facing systematic oppression is their history; so, why change the book's POV from Brian's to other characters like his mother and sister?! Why not let him speak, and through this character, talking about a dark period of American history that is still to be seen as such: as part of the American history?! By the final chapters, we don't read his final words, we read others' grief and/or prejudice and at least for me, that prevented the book from being great.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Christian Cuabo

    I might have shed a tear or two reading this book.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Eliot

    Books like this are the reason I read. There are a lot of great novels out there, but it's only once every year or so that I come across one that so firmly plants itself in my head, makes me lose all track of time, and puts my heart through a full workout. What drew me to this book in the first place was its different take on the AIDS crisis. Most stories center on how AIDS ravaged queer folks in metropolitan areas, with the virus working its way through characters' chosen families (see: The Grea Books like this are the reason I read. There are a lot of great novels out there, but it's only once every year or so that I come across one that so firmly plants itself in my head, makes me lose all track of time, and puts my heart through a full workout. What drew me to this book in the first place was its different take on the AIDS crisis. Most stories center on how AIDS ravaged queer folks in metropolitan areas, with the virus working its way through characters' chosen families (see: The Great Believers, Angels in America, The House of Impossible Beauties, etc.). The Prettiest Star follows the kind of story that only gets briefly mentioned in other novels -- the men who left the city as their health deteriorated to spend their final months back home with their families. Given how many queer men had to escape conservative small town America to find acceptance in the city, it's no surprise that these men in the 1980s were not welcomed back home with open arms. Misinformation about the disease and queerness, paired with old fashioned bigotry, meant these homecomings were often downright hostile: neighbors who thought the disease was killing all the right people, parents who felt hesitant to even touch their child, and townspeople who did everything in their power to drive the man out of town. The number of deaths at the height of the AIDS crisis is woefully under counted, given that many families refused to report the true cause of death. The story is primarily told from three viewpoints: Brian (who has come home to die), Sharon (Brian's mother, who can't even bring herself to say the word "gay"), and Jess (Brian's little sister, terrified by how everyone must now see her). Each navigate Brian's homecoming differently, and it's downright terrifying to think how many other queer men must have gone through this hell, all while battling a disease that would kill them in short order. They watched their friends die, they feel the virus killing them, and now their family won't look them in the eye. Some of the more powerful reactions come from two other characters -- Lettie (Brian's grandmother) and Travis (Brian's father). They offer contrasting approaches, with Lettie finding compassion and continuing to love her grandson, even if she doesn't fully understand his life, and Travis distancing himself and completely failing to show up for the son who so desperately wants him to be there. This book brings a new perspective to the growing body of works on the AIDS crisis, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in queer lit, the epidemic, or making sure their tear ducts still work.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Berry

    4.95! .5 off for editing errors, which should never happen in a book, regardless of the size of the publishing house. This book broke me. I do not cry reading books, this one, at the end, I did. Our main character, Brian, a gay man with AIDS, comes home from NYC, to a small town to die. This story was heart wrenching, very poignant, and just beautiful. As a father of a 24 y/o son, I put myself in the minds of the parents. OMG! This just killed me! So good!!!! You have to read this book!!!

  24. 4 out of 5

    John Fredeking

    I don’t think I have the words to describe how moving this book was - do yourself a favor and read it. 12 stars out of 5.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca H.

    The Prettiest Star is a novel about a virus. In 1980, Brian Jackson left his southern Ohio small town for New York City in search of a new life. He loved the freedom and excitement he found there. But then AIDS hit, and he lost his lover and contracted the disease himself. Now, in 1986, he heads back home to reconnect with his family and escape a city in mourning. Back home, however, everything is complicated. His family tries to keep his gayness and his disease a secret, not even telling his si The Prettiest Star is a novel about a virus. In 1980, Brian Jackson left his southern Ohio small town for New York City in search of a new life. He loved the freedom and excitement he found there. But then AIDS hit, and he lost his lover and contracted the disease himself. Now, in 1986, he heads back home to reconnect with his family and escape a city in mourning. Back home, however, everything is complicated. His family tries to keep his gayness and his disease a secret, not even telling his sister and grandmother the truth. Then the town begins to wonder what’s going on. The novel is told in alternating points of view, switching from Brian to his sister and then to his mother, so we get a full picture of the family and the town. The novel captures family dynamics and small-town life in absorbing detail. It’s a heartbreaking novel of the pain caused by homophobia and an empathetic look at suffering and disease.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Monica

    This is an absolutely brilliant novel, telling a story that hasn’t been heard enough.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    Fantastic. Heartbreaking tale of AIDS, religion, judgement, and family in Appalachian Ohio in 1986.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Rebekah

    Now here I am, alive, in Ohio, where we do not speak of the dead. I knew nothing about this book before picking it up, but I couldn't help but be intrigued by all of the anticipatory accolades already placed on this book. Before starting, I knew this story was basically about a young gay man returning to his small Appalachian hometown to die of AIDS. A lot of positive reviews of this book tout how emotional it is, but personally, I was not emotionally moved by the characters at all. There w Now here I am, alive, in Ohio, where we do not speak of the dead. I knew nothing about this book before picking it up, but I couldn't help but be intrigued by all of the anticipatory accolades already placed on this book. Before starting, I knew this story was basically about a young gay man returning to his small Appalachian hometown to die of AIDS. A lot of positive reviews of this book tout how emotional it is, but personally, I was not emotionally moved by the characters at all. There was a moment in the third part where I felt very teary, but I felt teary because Brian was actively dying of AIDS, and I probably would have been teary if this were a different character or a totally different book. This book sometimes feels like it isn't about Brian at all, but about his mother, sister, and grandmother and the ways that Brian having AIDS impacts the family and their social lives. It's about unlearning homophobia to some degree, and humanizing the people who are dying, but it also feels like this book is just depressing and only about discrimination, and the powerlessness of gay people to do anything to protect themselves from discrimination. The jumping from narrator to narrator - and despite having four POVs, only two narrators which made telling who was speaking confusing at times - disrupted the flow of the story, and it probably contributed to me not making an emotional connection with the characters. The ending also employed a lot of ethereal, flowery language in an effort to sound profound, but it ended up just feeling pretentious and like the words were not actually saying anything. But it's not like this was a bad book or anything, but it definitely was the type of pretentious literary fiction that I'm not crazy about.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Holly Hillard

    I pretty much cried the entire time I read this. It was incredibly tragic, but I am glad I read it. As a parent, I had such an extreme reaction to how Brian’s parents treated him. It hurt me to read their reactions to their own son. Yet, it felt very realistic for the time period...and honestly, I’m certain many parents might still react to their queer children in similar ways today.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Tessy Consentino

    Such a beautiful book.

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