This is a very topical book in this, the centenary year of the First World War. A Star for Mrs Blake by April Smith is the story of five American mothers who lost sons during the First World War. They meet on the first Gold Star Mothers pilgrimage, funded by the American Government, which takes mother to see their sons’ graves in France. The star in the title comes from the fact that families put a star in their window if their soldier child is serving abroad and a gold star shows that this person died.
As you’d expect, this is a very moving story. There can be nothing worse for any mother than to lose a child. Grief becomes a uniting force amongst the very different women who are thrown together in Party A where we have Mrs Blake, a maid, a Jewish farmer’s wife and a rich socialite. They represent different classes, religions and cultural backgrounds. Cora Blake remains our main point of interest and she makes for an interesting and sympathetic heroine, but other characters become absorbing too.
The author clearly did a lot of research for this book and that comes through in both the major themes and the little details. However, Smith’s obsession with detail concerning her characters slows the story down at times and takes our main focus away from the point of this pilgrimage and the death, scandal and secret that we’re tempted with in the book’s blurb. We go off at tangents that we don’t need to and become a little mired down in the minutiae of backgrounds now and again. Greater focus on the main thrust of the story would give it more momentum and make its impact even more powerful.
That said, it’s a good story and generally well written. It has a truly beautiful cover, as you can see, although the inclusion of ‘A Novel’ is rather pointless. We know what it is! It’s available as hardback, paperback, ebook and audiobook. Authors need to be providing their work in whatever format readers demand and it’s good to see that Smith’s publishers, Knopf, are doing this. However, the ebook price is unrealistically high, being more than for the paperback. Not a good marketing move, in my opinion.