Under the Christmas Star is a memoir of the life of David Hill's family in a small Alabama town — Boaz — in the 1950s. The Christmas Star becomes a harbinger of grace that ties together the lives of his grandparents, his parents, their adopted children (he being one), and their children. David's sister Debbie came to the family at two and one-half years old already having been through the foster care system. Her addictions, and her life spiraling downward presents the memoir's central question: Is addiction inherited or acquired? The question isn't asked clinically, but in the context of the anguish of family members who feel helpless to rescue one another, although they try valiantly. Especially when Debbie's life is repeated in her daughter's life, the third adopted child.
Heartfelt, Under the Christmas Star is a well-written portrait of a family in all its flaws and heroism.
Hill avoids oversentimentality with prose that is direct, personal, and original. His journalism background shines forth. The reader gets a satisfyingly real glimpse of the atmosphere of small-town Southern life in the fifties, of college life in the seventies, and of the work world of the eighties. Hill's parents and paternal grandmother, key figures to the story, are well-drawn from Hill's viewpoint over the years. Hill also touches on his own sexuality, his experimentation, and coming out to his parents in a way that is simple, direct, and relatable.
Although Hill doesn't attempt to answer any questions surrounding adoption's nature versus nurture debate, that interesting theme helps Under the Christmas Star stand out from the sea of memoirs. Told in a sensitive and hopeful way, Hill's painterly use of detail presents a memorable portrait of one family's experience of the pain and joy of this American life.