Title: Lone Star
Author: Paullina Simons
Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers Australia
Read: March 2015
Expected publication: 1 April 2015
From the author of Tully and The Bronze Horseman comes an epic new romantic saga - heart-wrenching and passionate, this compelling story of love lost and found will stay with you forever ...
Falling in love was the easy part ...
Chloe is weeks away from college when she embarks on a grand European adventure with her boyfriend and two best friends. Their destination is Barcelona, with its promise of romance and mystery, but first they must detour through the historic cities of Eastern Europe to settle an old family debt.
As they traverse the unfamiliar landscape of the post-Communist world, Chloe meets a boy on a train who is going off to war. Johnny carries a guitar, an easy smile - and a lifetime of secrets.The trip becomes a treacherous journey into Europe's and Johnny's darkest past - a journey that threatens to shatter the bonds holding together four lifelong friends.
From Riga to Treblinka to Trieste, Chloe must face her deepest desires colliding with the future she thought she wanted.
For Chloe and Johnny only one thing is certain: whatever their destination, their lives will never be the same.
At 17 years old and with a family tragedy overshadowing her past, Chloe Divine is a very much loved and over-protected only child growing up in a small town in Maine, US . With her best friend Hannah living next door and the girls’ boyfriends, brothers Mason and Blake, a mere few blocks away Chloe feels sheltered and secure. But Chloe’s life is about to change as she faces finishing school, leaving home and starting college a few thousand miles away. To celebrate their coming of age, the four youngsters dream of going to Barcelona, a town which embodies everything their boring hometown is apparently lacking. For Chloe it would provide an opportunity to finally break away from her protective parents. For Blake the trip would provide material for a short story he is hoping to enter into a competition that could win him enough money for a new truck to set up his own business. Whilst Hannah may be finally able to break off the secret relationship with a much older man who will not let her go. But Chloe’s parents are concerned and reluctant to sign Chloe’s application for a passport – what if something happens to her overseas? It is Chloe’s formidable grandmother Moody who comes up with a plan: if the four youngsters agree to go to Latvia to visit her last remaining relatives there and deliver some flowers to Treblinka, the Nazi death camp in Poland where some of Moody’s family lost their lives during the war, she is willing to pay for their trip to Europe. With no money of their own to speak of, the four friends reluctantly agree – how else are they going to get to Barcelona? Blake even thinks it will be fun, and provide him with more material for a prize-winning story.
Travelling is both an adventure and a test to the four friends, as most have never even been out of their own home state. Through a chance encounter on a crowded train, Chloe and Hannah meet the charismatic yet troubled Johnny Rainbow, a mysterious American teenager who is a tour guide and busker in Riga. Johnny is the typical bad-boy, confident, cocky and street smart, living his life to the fullest. Whilst Chloe, Hannah and Mason are enthralled by the charming stranger, Blake takes an instant dislike to Johnny and tries everything in his power to shake him off. With conflict and discord brewing, the lifelong friendship between the four youngsters becomes strained. Johnny is trouble, that much is evident, and things soon start to go wrong on their trip. But for Chloe, Johnny Rainbow will bring something else entirely – the ecstasy and agony of first love, a growing of age, of discovering her own sexuality. Which may ultimately break her heart.
It is difficult to put into words how much this book touched me. The characters are so real they regularly jump out of the pages of the book, take you by the hand and draw you into their story. I felt as if I was part of their journey, witness to their deepest most innermost feelings. With profound insight into the human psyche and the turbulent emotions of the teenage years, Simons slowly builds up each of the four friends’ distinctive personalities layer by layer, giving each their very own unique voice. I loved how the author presents different viewpoints for the situations the youngsters face during their travels, as each of them sees the same incident through very different eyes. Having travelled with friends before myself, I have always found it fascinating how different people can form such different memories and realities from one and the same situation. Simons captures this brilliantly, which rounds the characters and makes them come to life.
Every backpacker will also be able to relate to the disasters the four friends face on their travels – delayed trains, overcrowded buses, flea-infested hostels, sleeping on someone’s lounge room floor and the worst of the worst – having your passport stolen. Now enter Johnny, whose vivacious yet mysterious personality totally disrupts the groups’ dynamics, on which their friendship has been built and which has helped them survive as friends for so long. It does not take long for things to start unravelling. Chloe, who has always somewhat lived in Hannah’s shadow, is usually the mediator, the placatory, the quiet one who keeps everyone happy, a role which she has adopted to help her parents survive the family tragedy overshadowing their lives. All of a sudden Johnny brings out a new confidence in her which gives her the courage to break away from the group. Everyone who has ever been in love will be able to relate to the intense emotions of first love, the ecstasy and the agony of being totally and utterly consumed and absorbed by another person, the way the whole universe suddenly revolves around that person. I loved the scene where Chloe looks for Johnny in a strange town, how she sees him in the back of every dark haired stranger, how she wanders the street hoping to glimpse him, how he still owns her every emotion – have we not all done that at one stage? Johnny is your typical lost boy, the boy who will never grow up. I have met people like that – they sweep up people with their magic but leave a trail of destruction in their path. Young girls will fall madly in love and older woman will want to mother them. Despite his bravado the historical details Johnny recounts so factually on his tour of Treblinka hint at the grief of generations which runs in his veins and the darkness that consumes him.
The Lone Star is Simons at her best. It has the same sweetness and intensity as The Bronze Horseman, managing to transport the reader into another world, into the minds and bodies of its characters. It is much more than a love story – it is a story of friendship, of coming of age, of the emotional legacy of generations past still touching our own lives today. There aren't many books which are able to elicit such a deep emotional response and such regret at turning the last page. The echo of Chloe’s world stayed with me long after finishing the story. For lovers of The Bronze Horseman this is a must-read, and there is even a connection to the Tatiana and Alexander series, though I am not giving away any spoilers here. I totally loved this book and my review can never do it justice or convey how utterly it absorbed me in its pages. Definitely one for my favourite list. Very much recommended.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.