The Prettiest Star – Published 2020
“A stunning novel about the bounds of family and redemption, shines light on an overlooked part of the AIDS epidemic when men returned to their rural communities to die, by Lambda Literary Emerging Writer Award-winning author Carter Sickels.
Small-town Appalachia doesn’t have a lot going for it, but it’s where Brian is from, where his family is, and where he’s chosen to return to die.
At eighteen, Brian, like so many other promising young gay men, arrived in New York City without much more than a love for the freedom and release from his past that it promised. But within six short years, AIDS would claim his lover, his friends, and his future. With nothing left in New York but memories of death, Brian decides to write his mother a letter asking to come back to the place, and family, he was once so desperate to escape.
Set in 1986, a year after Rock Hudson’s death shifted the public consciousness of the epidemic and brought the news of AIDS into living rooms and kitchens across America, The Prettiest Star is part Dog Years by Mark Doty and part Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. But it is also an urgent story now: it a novel about the politics and fragility of the body; it is a novel about sex and shame. And it is a novel that speaks to the question of what home and family means when we try to forge a life for ourselves in a world that can be harsh and unpredictable. It is written at the far reaches of love and understanding, and zeroes in on the moments where those two forces reach for each other, and sometimes touch.” – Goodreads
This book is so, so, so good, y’all. This might be my favorite read of 2020 so far. Not because it’s a feel good story (spoiler – it is not), but because it’s so powerful and well written.
This story is told in alternating perspectives, the main character (a gay man), his mother, and his sister. He left home after high school to escape the close-mindedness and homophobic small town he grew up in, leaving his family behind.
It is now six years later, 1986, in the heart of the AIDS crisis. His family has since pretended he doesn’t exist, that he isn’t gay, and that he isn’t in a relationship with a black man. They also don’t know that he has been living with AIDS, watching all of his friends die, and longing to be accepted for who he really is by his own family.
This story is heartbreaking, powerful, frustrating, and beautiful.