Christina OW makes an impressive debut with this high-octane romantic thriller. This Dickensian tale is an often-heartbreaking examination of fatal beauty, emotional and physical spousal abuse, child endangerment, murder, violence, class, and ultimately the triumph of the human spirit over extreme circumstances.
Maria Martinez, a beautiful and angelic 22-year-old half-Latina single mother of a four-year-old boy Michael, hates her job as a waitress in a small café. But what’s a young working class woman with no college education to do in the small town of Jacksonville, Mississippi? Forced to wear a revealing uniform, she is tormented by the unwelcome attention from sexist customers, partly because of the basic indignities, but mostly because of her sadistically abusive, and over-jealous live-in boyfriend Ricky, Michael’s father. She endures much from Ricky—bruises all over her body, broken bones, lacerations—but when the abuse extends to her son, she realizes it’s time to escape.
But leaving is not so easy. Ricky’s enthusiastic abuse borders on the lethal. Ultimately, with the help of her mother Edna, Maria makes a last-ditch effort to escape, resulting in a presumed fatal house fire.
In New York City, handsome, wealthy and successful attorney Dave Greer is battling his own domestic war. His baby daughter Izzy (short for Elizabeth) is his world and he is a devoted parent. The same can’t be said for his tramp-of-a-wife Amy, who often leaves the young girl home alone while she entertains sexual partners and a life of social debauchery outside of her marriage and parental responsibilities.
Fed up, Dave finally asks for a divorce. But not ready to abandon the lifestyle Dave’s wealth and position affords her, Amy fights tooth-and nail to hold on to this loveless marriage.
Back in Jacksonville, Maria’s reprieve from Ricky is short lived, and she realizes there’s only one way she can save herself and her son. She moves him to New York City, where they change their names and alter their identity.
Through serendipitous circumstances, Dave and Maria meet. It turns into a cautious friendship, ultimately resulting in Maria becoming Dave’s live-in Nanny, after Dave tumultuous divorce from Amy and his attaining sole custody of Izzy.
Baby Izzy and now five-year-old Michael become like brother and sister, and Dave (who has enrolled Michael in a swank private school) and Maria become more like devoted parents to each other’s child, turning this employee-employer situation more into a fairy tale family setting.
In spite of Maria’s hesitation, due to the abuse she suffered during her relationship with Ricky, a tepid romance begins between Dave and Maria. And just as they are about to venture further, evil rears its ugly head, threatening to undo what they have so carefully built.
Star Bright is a very passionate book. It’s fearless in its examination of deep emotion and the bitter struggle for happiness against all odds.
There is plenty on edge-of-your-seat action, and there is no shortage of drama in these brisk 332 pages.
Watching Maria evolve from a put-upon, shrinking violet victim of abuse to a survivor who finds her voice and conviction against all odds will have one cheering for this warrior beauty. And much should be said about how Ms. OW admirably explores masculine tenderness and family devotion in the character of Dave.
The only challenges in this book are some minor punctuation and grammatical faux pas. But even these don’t get in the way of a gripping story, thrillingly told by a writer of great promise.
-Reviewed by Stanley Bennett Clay