Nora and Kettle (Paper Stars #1) by Lauren Nicolle Taylor
In the post-WWII 1950s America, stereotypes and prejudices against the Japanese were still prevalent. Kettle is a Japanese American boy, raised in the internment camps, who prefers life on the streets to the brutality of life in a Home. Along with his “brother” Kin, Kettle leads and protects a group of lost boys, known as the Kings, in a more “free” life. Nora, on the other hand, lives a privileged life of luxury and money, at least on the outside. Behind the scenes, Nora is physically abused by her father and is the sole protector of her younger sister, who has already been the permanently affected by his abuse.
A historical fiction loosely based on Peter Pan, Nora and Kettle is heartbreaking, beautiful, and rich with character development.
My biggest problem with this book is also one of its strengths: character development. While I loved the extensive look into these characters and their lives, understanding their motivations and who they are individually, it took 200 pages before the characters actually came together and the plot advanced. While this is written in a more “contemporary” style, focused on character and relationships, I would’ve liked to see that struggle of them coming together as more of the focus on the story. Nora on the streets, Kettle struggling with his identity: that’s where the real story lies, not 200 pages of will Nora leave home or not.
The first book in a series, the ending, while cathartic at times, seemed more interested in setting up the next book than finishing the current one. Readers are left with a cliffhanger and a major change in Nora’s life that should’ve been addressed much earlier.
That being said, Nora and Kettle is lyrically written, with beautiful paragraphs of dialogue and description that naturally flow together. It’s very easy to picture and watch the words dance around your head.
Dealing with some very tough topics, Nora and Kettle doesn’t shy away from the brutality of child abuse and racial prejudices, but doesn’t make it the sole characterization of its characters. Nora is abused, and that affects her in very real ways, but she’s also a sister, a dreamer, and someone whose mind hasn’t been shut to new experiences. Kettle is a Japanese American, but even he doesn’t know what that means for him; he doesn’t know what to identify as, and while he keeps his head low to avoid confrontation, he also works hard, refuses to give into those prejudices, and protects those that need it.
Though it takes some time for the title characters to finally come together – for Peter to whisk Wendy away through the window – when they do, it’s magical. They have a natural chemistry, and knowing them as well as we do, it’s exciting to see them together and beginning to fall for one another. It’s fast, but it also feels very slow at the same time.
A big fan of Peter Pan and its many retellings, this was not a disappointment.