Lambda Literary Emerging Writer Award-winning author Carter Sickels takes readers back to the AIDS crisis as it unfolded in small-town America. When HIV positive Brian returns from New York to his home town of Chester, Ohio, news of his illness travels fast as he and his family endure painful ostracism and Brian's friend from the city flies in to help.
I’ll say it — this book broke me ... The Prettiest Star outdoes what has already been a stellar literary career ... one of the most heart-wrenching novels I’ve read in a long time ... There’s something for everyone in this novel ... Sickels weaves a rewarding but complicated web ... The choices each character makes are rendered not just through Sickels’ gifted prose, but also in the often telling, time-stamped sections Brian records in his childhood room ... The stream-of-consciousness style lends itself to the feel of the novel — the unpredictability Brian is facing, not from the virus, but from the community where he has chosen to live his last days ... Brian was real to me. He still is.
Heartbreaking levels of bigotry and loss are conveyed through fluid, poignant prose. Amid the tragedy, threads of loyalty, strength, and pride result in a glimmer of hope—not for a happy ending, but for human beings’ capacity to love one another through the worst crises. Devastating and impactful, The Prettiest Star captures the profound effects of the AIDS crisis, and the lies and bigotry that contributed to it
While The Prettiest Star could have easily tipped into sentimental melodrama, Sickels manages to keep the story grounded and empathetic. Slurs are thrown casually, hateful glares are exchanged in public, and ignorance runs rampant while being upheld by those in power. But rather than wallow in it, the main characters in this novel look to live through it. While the story is primarily about a gay man dying of AIDS, the disease and his final months of life are used to examine exactly how microcosms like Chester can show the best and worst of humanity ... The reader is given a widescreen view of the protagonists that lifts these characters beyond clichés ... a sensitive, unashamed look at how much has and hasn’t changed since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. While at times heartbreaking, the novel is infused with a deep, hopeful humanity. It shows how difficult is it to live in a world that sees one as different but it also reflects how it’s possible to wade through that sea of ignorance, as long as you have enough to keep you afloat.