The Stars Are Fire

The Stars Are Fire

by Anita Shreve


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Washington Post 50 Notable Works of Fiction 2017

From the New York Times best-selling author of The Weight of Water and The Pilot's Wife (an Oprah's Book Club selection): an exquisitely suspenseful new novel about an extraordinary young woman tested by a catastrophic event—based on the true story of the largest fire in Maine's history

In October 1947, Grace Holland is experiencing two simultaneous droughts. An unseasonably hot, dry summer has turned the state of Maine into a tinderbox, and Grace and her husband, Gene, have fallen out of love and barely speak. Five months pregnant and caring for two toddlers, Grace has resigned herself to a life of loneliness and domestic chores. One night she awakes to find that wildfires are racing down the coast, closer and closer to her house.  Forced to pull her children into the ocean to escape the flames, Grace watches helplessly as everything she knows burns to the ground.  By morning, her life is forever changed: she is homeless, penniless, awaiting news of her husband's fate, and left to face an uncertain future in a town that no longer exists. With courage and stoicism, Grace overcomes devastating loss and, through the smoke, is able to glimpse the opportunity to rewrite her own story.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385350907
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/18/2017
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 371,715
Product dimensions: 6.60(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Anita Shreve was the New York Times best-selling author of seventeen novels that have been translated into thirty-six languages. She lived with her husband in New Hampshire.


New Hampshire; Massachusetts

Date of Birth:



B.A., Tufts University

Read an Excerpt

Hot breath on Grace’s face. Claire is screaming, and Grace is on her feet. As she lifts her daughter, a wall of fire fills the window. Perhaps a quarter of a mile back, if even that. Where’s Gene? Didn’t he come home? She picks Tom up from his crib and feels a wet diaper. No time to change him.

Excerpted from "The Stars Are Fire"
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Copyright © 2017 Anita Shreve.
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Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s discussion of The Stars Are Fire, the new novel from beloved author Anita Shreve.

1. The epigraph is a quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “Doubt thou the stars are fire; / Doubt thou the sun doth move; / Doubt truth to be a liar; / But never doubt I love.” What does it mean? What does it have to do with the novel it introduces?

2. “Containerize, her own mother once told Grace, as if imparting the secret of sanity. Her mother meant children as well as dry goods.” (pages 9–­10) In what ways does Grace follow this advice? When does she disregard it?

3. Grace intends to seduce Gene on page 15, but the results are degrading and painful. If the novel were set in the present, might this be considered marital rape? How are things different now from in the 1940s?

4. On page 22, Grace thinks, “It feels true that she might have wished her mother-­in-­law gone. Not dead, just gone. It feels true that she caused the hurtful night in bed, even though she sort of knows she didn’t.” Why does she blame herself for these things? When does she stop blaming herself?

5. Discuss Grace’s relationship with Rosie. Why is this friendship so important to Grace? What function does Rosie serve in her life?

6. Before reading The Stars Are Fire, what did you know about the fires that tore through Maine in 1947?

7. Can you think of anything Grace could have done differently to prepare?

8. After the fire, after losing the baby, Grace believes Gene may have used the chaos as cover for him to leave the family. What makes her think this? Would she rather that he fled, or died fighting the fire?

9. Why do Matthew and Joan take in Grace and the children? How does their action help her to heal?

10. At various points in the novel, Grace either ignores or heeds her intuition—­for instance, when Claire has a fever, or when Grace lets Aidan stay in the house. How does she decide when to follow her gut, and when to disregard it? Does her faith in her intuition grow over the course of the novel?

11. What do you think would have happened to Grace and the children if Marjorie hadn’t found them?

12. When does Grace begin to believe in her ability to survive and even thrive on her own? Is it purely a matter of necessity?

13. How does the notion of a “diaspora” figure into the story?

14. Which does more to pull Grace toward Aidan, their conversations or his music?

15. Why do you think Merle hid her jewelry where she did? What would have happened to Grace and the children if Grace hadn’t found it?

16. What prompts Grace to lie to her mother about Dr. Lighthart and about the money?

17. When Gene reappears, Grace thinks, “She will live in this house with this injured man on the couch until one of them dies. She will never again go to a job. She will never make love again. She will not have friends.” (page 175) What prompts her to find a way to escape this fate?

18. Are there any ways in which Gene’s rage about his situation is justified?

19. On page 195, Gene says, “ ‘Goddamnit, Grace. What’s got into you?’ ” She replies, “ ‘What’s gone out of me is a better question.” What does she mean?

20. In her goodbye letter to Gene, Grace writes, “I think that if the fire hadn’t happened, we’d have continued as the little family that we were. In time, I believe, we would have come to care about each other in a way that was companionable.” (page 221) Without the upheaval of the fire, do you think Grace would have stayed in her marriage?

21. When Grace decided to drive north, where did you think she was going? Did the epilogue surprise you?

22. The novel ends on a serendipitous note. Did you find it satisfying?

Customer Reviews

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The Stars Are Fire 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anita Shreve did not disappoint the reader again in her book. It was one full of all emotions and impossible to put down. KUDOS to her again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Absolutely beautiful. The reader is totally involved. There is beauty and darkness. You will not regret this purchase.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve is a very moving and realistic novel about the real-life 1947 "fire that burned Maine" and how it changed the lives of survivors. Some of the families had to literally flee for their lives, with nothing but what they wore. They didn't have time to grab their most valued possessions. After the fire finally was out, they had to start their lives again, some from scratch. The story focuses on a young woman named Grace and her family, and those in their orbit. They had thought World War II was the worst that could happen to them, but little did they know what they would face only a few years later. Shreve deftly develops characters that you love or hate, and some characters with whom you identify. I highly recommend this book, and I look forward to reading other books by Ms. Shreve.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
captivating!! Well done.....
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While the novel immidiately captured my attention, I found it lacking as the story progressed . Still , not a bad read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Page turner. I completed the book in one day.
BookGirlNY More than 1 year ago
The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve is a one sitting read. Once you pick up the book and read the first sentence, you will not want to or be able to put it down. A five star book of engaging historical fiction. Shreve transports us to coastal Maine in 1947 where we meet Grace, a mother of two and married to Gene. Her best friend Rosie lives next door with her two children and husband Tim. All summer there has been a drought and now wildfires are raging across the state. Grace and Rosie’s husbands have gone to fight the fire and left the women and children at home. The fire is escalating and the women must rely on their instincts to save their children and themselves. At this pivotal moment Grace’s life is changed forever. Nothing she knew or depended on can help her when the winds of change come. Grace must now light the fire that has been buried deep inside of her in order to survive. Grace is a character of deep emotions and resilience. In the beginning of the book she is very meek and quiet. In time we come to see her fierceness and drive that compels her to live. Rosie is another favorite character of mine. She is not quite as well developed, but I loved her from the beginning. She is everyones best friend and ally. My least favorite is Gene for many reasons. He is a self-centered egotistical man that cares nothing for his family!
PegGlover 12 days ago
The Stars Are Fire is a fictional well-written and captivating story, which takes place in Maine during its historic fire of 1947. Grace Holland felt trapped and alone in her marriage. She knew that she was on her own when an uncontrollable fire terrorized her town, burning everything in its way. Grace was able to save her two children, but her husband Gene, who had been fighting the fire, was declared missing. Grace’s home and everything in it was destroyed. She knew that she’d have to reinvent herself. Grace didn’t like taking over her less than kind, deceased mother-in-law’s home, but desperate times demanded desperate measures. However, when she found the house already occupied, by a concert pianist, life took an unexpected turn, for the better. Grace’s happy-ever-after didn’t come easily, though. She had many trials and emotions to live through first. Although, The Stars Are Fire, is not a page-turner, it is a compelling read. The story is thought-provoking, emotional, and captivating.
Anonymous 20 days ago
Compelling read, sudden though satisfying ending
Anonymous 4 months ago
A nice light read with some twists and turns and great characters
Anonymous 6 months ago
Anonymous 7 months ago
It was very captivating. I’ve read mostly all her books and this is one of the best ones.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sandy5 More than 1 year ago
I almost DNF this novel as I didn’t like the narrator that read it to me. I thought her voice was flat and she carried no emotions as she read. I feel that I would have enjoyed this novel more had the narrator put some feelings in her voice as the story played out. I did enjoy this novel and the character of Grace really surprised me in the end. Grace is content in her life with her husband and two small children. Grace loves being a mother and caring for her children but her relationship with her husband is another story. Their married life is missing the passion, love and excitement that it used to have. Grace misses these feelings yet it seems like her husband is fine with how their relationship is evolving. As I read, it felt as if this couple is just going through the motions to get through each day, doing their assigned roles. When a massive fire hits their region, the couple is separated. The husband leaves to help combat the blazes while Grace stays home to attend to the children and their house. As the fire begins to reach their home, Grace realizes that she cannot stay in their home or they will die, so she starts to consider her options. I thought her plan of action was brilliant and as she cared for her children, I began to see how committed she was to her children. When Grace and her children are rescued, she tries to find the people who matter most to her: her husband, her mother and her best friend. Their family has nothing to return to as everything was destroyed in the fire so Grace must start rebuilding their lives, if they are to have any future. Grace doesn’t break down emotionally or physically because of their situation, she immediately starts planning and deciding what direction she wants to take. With her husband missing and other families in the same situation, Grace is resourceful and swift with her actions. When she comes upon Aiden, I was surprised at her actions. I realized she must have been battling a multitude of emotions but I thought ethics might come out on top. As she continues to rebuild their lives, her love for her children shines, her resourceful strengthens, and she begins to realize what really matters in her life. I enjoyed the character growth in this novel. I kept reflecting back that his novel occurred in 1947 and as I read, my respect and admiration for Grace grew. She is almost a completely different woman by the time I read the final pages. This was an entertaining read, one that I am glad I read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This Anita Shreve installment had something of a tepid start in my opinion, but then, many other books also start out mildly. Perhaps it was intentional, in order to build up to the high point of the story. Once the fire started, though, the more I read, the harder it was to put down. The closer I got to the ending, the more I kept wondering, How will Grace extract herself from her predicament? I am a fan of epilogues, and the surprises in this one did not disappoint. The only drawback I could see was the explicit description of intimate acts. Granted, there were only a few of them, but I don't believe they added anything to the story and could just as easily have been omitted. Overall, though, I think it was a good story and I look forward to Anita's next book.
DubaiReader1 More than 1 year ago
Ravaged by fire. Based on a true event that occurred in October 1947, Anita Shreve has returned to the Maine coast, where several of my favourite Shreve books were based. Her writing is as precise and perfect as ever, drawing the reader in, well before the excitement of the novel even begins. Following a drought that lasted all Summer, the Autumn of 1947 brought little relief to the residents of Hunts Beach, and the looming threat of fire became a reality when dry winds sent flames whipping across the forests, destroying nine towns. Grace and her best friend Rosie are trapped between the fire and the ocean with four children between them. Ingeniously, they use the shore to save themselves, but life will never return to normal for the two women. At the time of the fire Grace's husband, Gene, was helping in the forest, creating wind-breaks, hoping to prevent the onslaught. When the flames subside, Grace finds herself with a missing husband, penniless, homeless and with two young children to support. A great read, highly recommended. Previously read: The Pilot's Wife (5 stars) Fortune's Rocks (5 stars) Resistance (5 stars) Sea Glass (5 stars) All He Ever Wanted (3 1/2 stars) Body Surfing (3 stars) A Change in Altitude (4 stars)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ilovemister More than 1 year ago
Absolutely marvelous. It was a grabber from the first page. Story moved along and kept a person engaged. Great Book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I like the book, and One of the best fictional book,The Perfect Author read it on and give your feedback. really worth to read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Story bounced around- just not a good book. I have read every Anita Shreve book written. This one just felt strange. Would not recomend to anyone