Grey County Reads

Kaleena Johnson Defends:

by Richard Wagamese


With a new year upon us, many have personal transformation on our minds. The novel Starlight centres around one character, Emmy, and her personal transformation while introducing us to other characters who are the catalyst for this change and the gentle guides who help and see her through this transformation.

Care and attention are prevalent throughout the novel in the character and plot development. There’s a sense of building affection between the readers and its characters until trust is awarded and the depths of the characters begin to be revealed. As human beings, we long for a connection; to a person, nature, place or thing, and while reading Starlight, I was enthralled by author, Richard Wagamese's ability to write with raw honest, concrete understanding and eloquence. I was able to parallel myself to the characters and the plot itself.

Throughout the novel, readers are exposed to many facets of human nature, cruelty, anger, fear, and utter beauty, all of which leads us to examine how we choose to live our lives as well.
Wagamese died March 24, 2017 with Starlight not yet being finished. Readers are left with not knowing if Emmy was able to honour her transformation or when faced with adversity, abandon them.

Plot summary

The novel begins with us first meeting Starlight after encountering a significant loss in his life. Readers then reflect and journey with Starlight through his home, surroundings and past and what his next move should be - does he leave the only place he's only ever known, or does he venture to somewhere new to begin a new life? Ultimately, he decides to stay at his home at which point creates the backdrop and inspiration for the rest of the novel.

Starlight, the novel, is broken up into three books;
1) Wild Things
2) Deer Stalker
3) Unbroken Love

All three books, to me had three different plots, as they all identify and expose the different layers and the transformation of Emmy.

Book One: Wild Things begins with plotting the escape of Emmy and her daughter Winnie from an extremely loveless and lonely life only filled with years of abuse, neglect and many hardships. Once finally "free", readers journey with the mother and daughter duo as they travel many distances to separate themselves from the men with whom they encountered the many years of abuse from. Even with all the miles separating the girls and their former life they still carry with them the damages put onto them throughout their life until one day when they fatefully met Starlight.

Book Two: Deer Stalker, it's been sometime now that Emmy and Winnie have been residing with Starlight, and although their life is pleasant enough, they are still in the grips of their former life. In this book journey with Starlight, his friend Roth, Emmy and Winnie through the backcountry and mountain range of western Canada and Starlight guides the girls in finding a connection with something greater than themselves. Through this discovery and connection, Emmy can see life in a different light and begins to life with a different purpose, love and happiness- with herself, her daughter, Roth and Starlight.

Book Three: Unbroken Love, finally living a life with meaning and free from fear of her past, Emmy is flourishing, as well as Winnie. Living life comfortable and unsuspecting, Emmy is confronted by the men from her past who have relentlessly hunted her.

Character Analysis

As mentioned, Richarch Wagamese was able to deeply describe and form the characters in the novel Starlight. We are introduced and exposed to six characters who play a vital role centering around the main protagonist, Emmy. Beginning the novel, Emmy and her daughter Winnie find themselves in a major conflict with Emmy’s partner, Codotte and his friend Anderson. This is a harrowing moment for both characters, Emmy and Winnie, as after year’s of abuse at the hands of Codotte, Anderson and herself, she comes to a resolution to end the cycle to find something more for herself and her daughter.

It is interesting and intense to examine the lengths one can go to save themselves and ones they loves. We continue with Emmy and Winnie through their desperate journey of freedom. As a mother, I was able to parallel myself with Emmy during this time as parents inherently have a need to protect their children; protect them from the truths of the cruelty of the world and protect them from the truths of the desperate situations we at times find ourselves in. I believe this comes from a place of love and desire to keep the innocence and happiness that all kids have. However, just like all children, Winnie actually knows more of what is going on than what we give them credit for. For me, this novel begs the question of Nature vs. Nurture. What instincts do we has humans fall back on and what become ingrained in us through childhood upbringing and life events then back to nature? Does one have the ability to make change when they do not like the direction? Emmy can be perceived as internally flawed always staying in the cycle of desperation and bad choices and she believes this to be true about herself as well. Starlight is the one who changes her trajectory by simply showing love, compassion, understanding and patience. When he believes in her, she begins to believe in herself.

Theme Analysis

I hate giving away endings and as this novel come to an abrupt end its hard to outline theme. For me the climax comes at the very last page. What I can say is that the novel examines human nature, personal growth and love. Each page is infused with outlining human behaviour and depicting Emmy’s journey of personal transformation. Throughout the whole novel, you know something is going to happen that will test her limits and can lead to severe trouble for her and this all happens at the end.


Starlight is definitely not for the faint of heart. As well as recapping the novel, I have grappled with the task of producing the summary of the novel. Bringing everything into context to produce a cohesive synopsis has been a challenge. Being a first draft and unfinished novel, the readers never come a resolution as to what happens. Much of the “draft” novel readers get to know characters and the plot – which I can assume much of would end up on the editing floor. But with this, is safe to say that all readers will have a different experience while reading a novel. The novel was very well written. Wagamese has a great craft of character’s who are living a very real life in this novel and who captivated the readers. It’s hard to describe, but while reading the novel it was almost like meditating for me. All this chaos is abundant and you feel that, but when Starlight spoke a sense of calmness fell upon me. It’s easy to see the impact he had on Emmy.

Grey County Reads

Grey County Reads is a county-wide reading program involving seven local libraries, including Grey Highlands, Hanover, Meaford, Owen Sound, Southgate, Town of Blue Mountains and West Grey. Five local celebrities advocate for five Canadian books.

How to Participate

Readers are encouraged to follow along with the contest, consider each book and it’s celebrity endorsement. Pick up your own copy of one or more of these books and give us your opinion too. Books are available in limited quantities from your local public library or may be purchased from your favourite local bookstore.

  • Kaleena Johnson, Manager of Customer & Media Relations for the MS Chi-Cheemaun, will advocate for Starlight by Richard Wagamese.
  • Terry Burns, writer, poet, visual artist and arts administrator, will advocate for Bellevue Square by Michael Redhill.
  • Steve Morel, Entertainer and Arts Administrator for Durham Art Gallery, will advocate for Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice.
  • Geoff Bowes, actor, author and former carpenter, will advocate for Steal Away Home by Karolyn Smardz-Frost.
  • Carolyn Letourneau, Executive Director for Beaver Valley Outreach will advocate for The Evening Chorus by Helen Humphreys.

Read any or all of the Grey County Reads books and/or read each of the book synopses and celebrity installments posted on

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The Bicycle Café
The Bookstore
Chapman's Ice Cream
The Colour Jar
ColourPix Graphic Design Services
Grey County Public Libraries
Grey Roots Museum and Archives
John Tamming Law
Larry Miller, MP Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound
Nature's Path Osteopathy and Alternative Healing
Owen Sound Transportation Company
The Restaurant - Leela's Villa Inn
Speaking Volumes Books and Audio
Bill Walker, MPP Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound
West Grey Chamber of Commerce


Grey County Reads Sponsors - 2018


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Leela's Villa Inn