A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord is a contemporary realistic novel set in Maine on the coast near the blueberry fields the state is famous for. When Lily’s blind dog runs off, Salma a girl Lily’s age who also happens to be a migrant farm worker, stops Lucky the dog from running into a speeding car by giving him her lunch. The strikes up a new relationship from the two girls who otherwise wouldn’t have crossed paths even though they live in the same town. At first, Lily is  judgmental (even though she doesn’t mean to be). Salma’s house is a small one room shack on the farmland, she speaks Spanish (but also English), and she offers blueberry enchiladas. Lily just doesn’t think it’s going to work. Lily fears that her small town won’t understand that they can be friends and might make Salma feel bad about being different, when Lily’s really worried about what everyone will think of her for being friends with a migrant worker, especially when Lily’s current best friend is drifting away from her.

But Salma is a breath of fresh air for Lily. They can both relate to loss. Salma lost her dog, Luna, and has to move every three months to work the fields instead of staying with her home and friends in Florida. Lily’s mother is dead and her bristly Grand’Mere blames Lucky. Lucky lost his eye sight and Lily is trying to save money to get him eye surgery by selling painted bee houses.

Everything Lily does is regimented and carefully in the lines. She doesn’t upset anyone. She stencils painted blueberries on the bee houses in their correct color. She doesn’t let Lucky off his leash anymore and doesn’t let him play with other dogs just in case one is mean and Lucky doesn’t sense it with his remaining senses and gets hurt.

Everything Salma does is brave. She works during the day. She paints crazy colors and beautiful scenes of purple and pink bees and yellow blueberries, etc. She wants to be in the Blueberry Pageant to win a savings bond, the first place prize, to save for college. She doesn’t care that she is different.

But this makes Lily uneasy. She doesn’t want to rock the boat. She doesn’t want her friend to get hurt and doubts that she can win a pageant where the winners are always blond and none of them are migrant. But she also wants Salma to be happy. And Salma starts changing Lily’s view of herself, always playing it safe, and people’s place in the world. In this novel diversity and “other” come crashing into a small town even though they have always been right next to each other.

I like how Lily is prejudiced at the beginning as a flawed character and grows throughout the novel with introspective parts of the text intermingled with the plot. You like her, but you can tell her views are wrong. And Salma is spunky so you want to see her way of thinking and have things change in the town.

However, I also think that this novel is a little unrealistic. I worked at a school that the migrant children went to. As long as the kids were under 16, they were in school, not in the fields. They lived several families to small trailers. Even though Salma’s cabin was one room and small, her family got their own living area and it was sturdy. There are only quicky and glossy mentions of migrant problems. Salma’s problem with fractions was just seen as an annoyance and she learned them magically in one day from Lily. The education problem for migrant children is much worse than that. They’re usually behind by 2 or more years in school. They don’t have that great working conditions and their parents usually work 12 or more hour days so they’re not home all the time to answer the door like Salma’s mom who always seems to be at home. The town people were just a short walk away from the migrant camp. In real life it’s usually at least a 20 minute drive to get to the migrant camp and the factories that process the fruit (and the factories weren’t even mentioned in the book).

Overall, I think it’s a nice introduction to make kids aware of this population, but I feel like it says, hey these guys are just different; they aren’t living in bad conditions. Cesar Chavez would not be happy.

I listened to the audiobook. It was good, the narrator had a hispanic accent for Salma which differentiated the characters and was accurate. But the the audio wasn’t amazing.