In Mitchard's latest novel, twelve-year-old Veronica "Ronnie" Swan's life suddenly and irreversably changes when she finds her two sisters murdered during a game of hide-and-seek. Their killer, Scott Early, stays at the scene of his crime, sitting in a trance-like state. After the media frenzy, Early's trial, and two new baby boys in the Swan family, Ronnie's parents, devout Mormons, finally find the strength to forgive Early, who suffers from schizophrenia. Ronnie, however, cannot forgive, and becomes angry with her parents because they are able to. Four years later, Ronnie sets out to avenge her sister's murders, changing both her identity and the course of her life forever. When she has Scott Early firmly in her sights, what happens is surprising and shocking.
This novel conveys life weighed down by unshakeable grief. It's a beautiful and heart-wrenching tale of one girl's search for wholeness of self after her life is torn asunder. Ronnie Swan is real and poignant and possesses the voice of a girl who has been forced to grow up too soon. She has a spiritual crisis; the Mormon religion is the thread that weaves itself throughout this tale, affecting all of Ronnie's life choices. As she matures, she begins to question the sense of some of the church's doctrine. This is what allows her to stew in her anger and her need for revenge, rather than trying to let go and forgive Scott Early, as her parents did. Mitchard is adept at illustrating the raw edges of grief and rage - both emotions stay fresh and undiminished for Ronnie as the years pass in the novel.
Mitchard does an excellent job of allowing everyone in the novel to be a sympathetic character. Grief permeates every molecule of air in the Swan household, and Ronnie's parents feel as if they must forgive Scott Early in order to move on with their lives. This is understandable. Scott Early is mentally ill and had no control over what he did, and Mitchard never makes him out to be truly evil. He is remorseful and plagued by guilt over what he did, but he is allowed some redemption and an opportunity to live a normal life. This too, is understandable. But Ronnie's lingering rage, her disappointment that Scott Early received such a light sentence while her two sisters would never get a second chance in life - this is probably the most realistic response, and the one that most people would feel after losing a family member to murder. All the various kinds of grief and anger ring true. Ultimately, Ronnie finds the salve for her emotional wounds and helps heal Scott Early's own wounds in the process. Both go on to lead productive lives. Ronnie eventually finds peace and happiness, although it seems that Scott Early's life will always be tinged by sadness and remorse.
Cage of Stars is an astonishing, powerful book about the many nuances of human emotion. It is hard to imagine how someone would feel after such a horrific and shocking event unless you have experienced it firsthand, yet Mitchard makes it palpable and real. This is the first Mitchard book that I've read, but she proves herself so insightful and talented here that I look forward to reading more.