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Star in the Forest book cover

Star in the Forest, by Laura Resau;
Delacourte Books for Young Readers:
New York, 2010; $14.99

Deported. On her eleventh birthday Zitlally Mora’s father was arrested for speeding. Now he is going to be sent back to Mexico. And it is going to be very hard for him to come back. Zitlally’s name means Estrella, or Star, in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. Just like Zitlally, I am multi-cultural. My mother is German and my father Caribbean. My name, Jamila, means beautiful in Arabic.

There is a special relationship between Zitlally and her papa. After he is deported, life seems to go straight downhill for Zitlally. She has three so-called best friends, but friendship with Morgan, Emma, and Olivia is hard work! Zitlally always has to look at what they’re wearing so that she can do the same. She has to see how they style their hair, how they walk and how they talk so she can be just like them. But on the inside, Zitlally is a completely different person. Her friends don’t know the true Zitlally, the one that crossed the desert from Mexico and came to the U.S. illegally. After her father is deported, Zitlally starts keeping to herself. Sometimes she doesn’t brush her hair or wears the same clothes twice. She forgets to laugh at jokes. When Zitlally stops trying to be like her friends, they dump her because she has “turned boring.”

That’s when she meets Star. He is a skinny, scruffy dog Zitlally finds in the forest of old car parts behind the trailer park where she lives. Zitlally feeds Star, grooms him, and gives him lots of love. She also befriends her next-door neighbor, Crystal. There is a bond that connects the two girls: they are both outsiders. Together they not only teach Star ordinary dog tricks but also how to beep a car horn. Then news reaches the Mora family that Zitlally’s father is returning home. Everyone is in a festive mood. But shortly after this wonderful news, Star vanishes! Did he run away? Did his owner come to take him back? Not only that, but on the very same day, Zitlally’s papa is kidnapped!

Zitlally knows that Star is a special animal. When she was a young child, her father had told her a story from the time of his great-great-grandparents about when people used to have special animals. If the animal was sick, the person would become sick too. Human and animal could feel each other’s pain. If the person needed extra strength, he could think of his animal and use its powers. It doesn’t take long for Zitlally to figure out that Star is her father’s special animal. She and Crystal desperately try to find their beloved dog because Zitlally knows if something happens to Star it will happen to Papa too.

This wasn’t the first time I had heard about illegal immigrants, but I had never thought much about it consciously. Zitlally’s friends who dumped her thought she came from Mexico by plane. They assumed Zitlally’s father could come and go as he pleased. Zitlally couldn’t admit to them that it was dangerous for her father to cross the desert from Mexico. I can relate to Zitlally in the sense that people who don’t know me well sometimes misunderstand, thinking I am adopted because I have darker skin color than my mother. On many occasions I am also mistaken for being Hispanic.

This is a very fun book that wraps up humor, animals, friendship, illegal immigration, love, family and hope all in one. Zitlally’s character is one of a courageous young girl who doesn’t lose heart no matter what gets in her way.

Star in the Forest Jamila dePeiza-Kern
Jamila dePeiza-Kern, 10
Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts