MANY BOOKS have been written about the early days of the AIDS crisis that focus on the stories of the victims of the plague and the pain, homophobia, and helplessness that they endured. There is also a story to be told about what happened to their family members, and the effect it had on their standing in the community. What makes Carter Sickles’ new novel The Prettiest Star different is that it tells the story not only of Brian, a young man dying from AIDS, but also of his family and the suffering, discrimination, and harassment they went through.
The year is 1986, and Brian, age 24, has witnessed his partner and most of friends succumb to AIDS. Now in the later stages of the disease, he has decided to leave New York City, where he’s lived for the past six years, and return to his hometown of Chester, Ohio. He has written to his mother Sharon asking to come home, revealing that he has AIDS. This presented the first conflict for his parents: at last, their son who left wants to come home, but not only is he gay, now he has AIDS. “What will people think?” worries his mother. For this is small-town America, where ignorance and prejudice about the epidemic are almost complete.
The story is narrated by Brian but also by his mother Sharon, who records her struggles with her marriage as well as her feelings toward Brian, even as she’s dealing with the neighbors’ hate and the trials of his fourteen-year-old sister Jess, who is also given a narrative voice.