The year is 2005 and Ellen and Lacey are two women who are as different as two women can be. Ellen is a widow with two kids in their late teens and a very fulfilling career as an English Professor at the local university. Lacy is a young mother with a twelve year old son living with her husband in New York City. The only thing these two women have in common is that their loved ones were just injured in the Iraq war. For Ellen it is Michael, her "ward". He joined the Marines when he felt he had no other option. He had a rough life growing up and feels like he owes so much to Ellen who took him in at seventeen. Rather than go back to the streets he came from, he joins the Marines. Lacey's husband, Eddie, is a member of the Army Reserves and this is not his first trip to the desert. Both men and critically injured and are sent to Walter Reed Hospital for their care and recovery. It is there that the two women meet and become unlikely friends. Together they sit in the halls of Walter Reed praying, talking, and advocating for their loved ones. Both men have life changing injuries, but the way they adapt to their injuries is entirely different.
Blue Stars is an incredible look at the side of war almost never mentioned in novels. What happens after the injuries. Loved ones are summoned to join their injured loved ones at Walter Reed where sometimes they get the necessary information and sometimes they don't. For months on end their injured loved ones are cared for by a conveyor belt of doctors, nurses and other staff. When the crisis passes and the wives and mothers feel safe in leaving for a shower, a meal, and a good night of sleep they are often put up by the Government in hovels that are overcrowded, dirty, and bug-infested. To say it was eye-opening is a complete understatement. Ellen and Lacey are so completely opposite of each other and those differences are highlighted time after time. Ellen is a reserved, educator who listens to NPR and is an Edith Wharton scholar. Lacey is a brash, loud, New Yorker with the mouth of a sailor and a bit of a drinking problem. But the way they lean on each other all those months at Walter Reed is the stuff that lifelong friendships are made of. Both women have their faults, but the way they overlooked their differences and backgrounds was just truly heartwarming. Both Michael and Eddie were forever changed by what happened in Iraq and I was pleased with the way the author ended the book. Not ideal, but fair. What else can you hope for from war?
Bottom line, Blue Stars is an enthralling look at the ugly business of war. Emily Gray Tedrow introduces us to two women who knows what it means to be strong, compassionate, and survivors. Would be a great book for a book club. So much to talk about!