If there were ever a time I judged a book by its cover, this is it. I never do that. Okay, sometimes I do that. I couldn’t help myself this time. The paperback version of The Starlite Drive-In had me at hello. The colorized black and white picture of said drive-in on the front with the single old car and young girl begged to be picked up and discovered. Because I have a big thing for mid-century America, of course. And especially the old movies that were no doubt showed at that drive in. Without even reading the back cover for a description, I bought it. Yes, based on that cover picture alone (that in reality isn’t all that old). Has that ever happened to you?
Callie Ann Benton is the 12 year old narrator of The Starlite Drive-In by Marjorie Reynolds. She grew up there, with her family, back in the 50s. That alone is interesting to me. How fun would it have been to grow up at an American drive-in back in the 1950s? In the process of learning about life at the drive-in, we quickly get sucked in to the family issues of Callie’s life too. Her mother is agoraphobic, and hasn’t left the house in five years while her father, injured and more than a little grumpy, runs the drive in. One summer a drifter is hired by the owners of the drive-in, to help Callie’s father maintain it. With his arrival, things start to change, and not just with Callie.
Oh, and did I mention this is also a murder mystery? Even though this book is sometimes advertised as one, that certainly is NOT the primary plot.
Callie Ann is a smart curious girl, who, does a wonderful job of detailing life as she sees it. She’s lonely, a keen observer, thinker and 12 years old. I like her. The Starlite Drive-In is a book of loneliness, sadness and suspense, but there are also some smiles. It’s characters definitely run the gamut of emotions, which always kept it interesting for me. The drive-in itself doesn’t have a big role here, other than it’s part of the family’s home and the dusty setting to the story. I think it makes a great backdrop to a pretty good coming of age story. I couldn’t put this one away, even for sleep. I finished it in one night.