Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Shakespeare for the 21st Century

Spanking Shakespeare by Jake Wizner
4Q 3P S

As I said about The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, this is a book that may raise a parental eyebrow or two on occasion, but teenage boys won't bat an eye and will eat these books up. It's great to have books for older teenage boys that will make them laugh. Out loud, even. We don't get very many of those.

Shakespeare Shapiro is a loser even in his own eyes. Here he is, a senior in high school, and he's yet to kiss a girl. His younger brother Gandhi gets more action than he does! He has his eye on Celeste Keller, who's been his fantasy girl since ninth grade, even though he knows he should be realistic and settle for one of his safety list girls (you know, like you have a list of safety schools when you're applying for college, these are girls he's pretty sure wouldn't say no). For the time being, though, he's holding on to his dreams (in more ways than one) and hoping someone on his "unrealistic" list will come through for him. Shakespeare has only two good friends, Katie and Neil. The typical conversation between the three of them consists of Katie telling Shakespeare everything that's wrong with him, Neil describing his bowel movements, and Shakespeare trying to get his head around the fact that Neil and Katie are hooking up.

At home, besides his handsomer, more popular younger brother, he's got a neurotic mother and an alcoholic father. They're a tad on the sadistic side (in case you couldn't guess from the names they gave their kids). Dad's favorite parenting methods involved terrorizing his kids. When Mom got fed up with them, she pretended they didn't exist. When Shakespeare was seven, they sent him to a summer camp that he would later compare to Lord of the Flies. (It wasn't a totally savage experience. He did learn one important skill there that gave him a great deal of pleasure throughout his teenage years.) Of course, there are benefits to having crazy parents. They're pretty easy to negotiate with, for one thing. For giving up naming rights to his puppy (they named it Onomatopoeia, Pee for short), Shakespeare got $30 bucks and a picture of a naked woman for his bedroom. So yeah, maybe there are a few advantages to having parents who are nuts.

Does a kid like this have any chance of getting the girl? Of getting any girl? It isn't looking good. And Shakespeare is more than a little tired of getting action only in his dreams. But he has one talent that just might get him the girl after all. Shakespeare can write. (Ironic, isn't it?) And Shakespeare has a weird sense of humor. As it turns out, there are two girls who like that combination in a man. Two! An embarrassment of riches! And one of them is Celeste! But remember who we're talking about here. The course of true love never did run smooth.

Of course, it's just barely possible that we should be taking much of this with a grain of salt. Perhaps several grains. Half of this book, after all, is really Shakespeare's memoir, the memoir that all seniors in his school have to write. Could Shakespeare be exaggerating just a tad, just to make his memoirs memorable? For his sake, I hope so!


I've read that the author is a middle school teacher and that this book (his first) is making the rounds in his school to great acclaim. That's cool. But I'll be recommending it to high school-aged teens, not middle schoolers.

There's a lot to laugh about in this book. But I think that there are elements that are a little forced. For instance, how many teenage boys are obsessed with their bowel movements, to the point of keeping a journal about them? Isn't that pushing scatological humor a little over the top? That could be my bias as someone who was never a teen-aged boy. Readers who love outrageous humor aren't going to bat an eye at elements like that. Those who like something a little subtler may need to let a few things slide.

For all that I've been emphasizing the humor in this book, there's more to it than that. The subplot involving Charlotte White adds much-needed depth to Shakespeare's character and heart to the book. Shakespeare is more than a little self-obsessed, and I felt he needed someone like Charlotte to make him a mensch. When the book ended, I found myself wanting to know more about that relationship and how it changed Shakespeare. I'd read that sequel, were it to be written.

I was tickled by the decision to make the book look like a binder, complete with dog-eared pages.

Quotes: (selected to give you a sense of Shakespeare's voice):

I should warn you. Some of the material you're about to read is disturbing. Some of it will make you shake your head in disbelief. Some of it will make you cringe in disgust. Some of it might even make you rush out into the stormy night, rip your shirt from your body, and howl, "WHY, GOD, WHY?" Then again, maybe you'll jusst sit back and smile, secure in the knowledge that your name is not Shakespeare Shapiro, and this is not your life.

Ten minutes later Ms. Rigby, my math teacher, calls on me when I'm not paying attention. Ms. Rigby is the kind of teacher who prowls for students not paying attention and pounces on them with undisguised delight. I've been staring at Jody Simons, who is wearing a miniskirt and sitting diagonally in front of me, and when Ms. Rigby calls my name, my head shoots up and my cheeks begin to burn. "Shakespeare," she says. "If you would devote as much focus to calculus as you do to Jody's legs, you might learn some math this year." Everybody laughs, and Jody shoots me a sympathetic look, the kind you might offer to the parent of a brain-dead child.

I wonder how Ganghi [asked a girl out]...I wanted to ask. What did you say? What did she say back? Of course when you're sixteen and your brother is fourteen, you can't really ask him to teach you how to get a girlfriend. Sometimes I wish we were still in elementary school so I could beat him up like I used to.

One of Shakespeare's tamer musings on girls:

The day Celeste heard my obituary was the day our relationship took on new life. We sit together in class now, and I smile when she makes references to novels I haven't read and wonder if this is how literary people flirt. I missed a great opportunity the other day. She was talking about a battle scene in The Iliad as an example of Homer-erotica, and it wasn't until later that I realized that "Homer" rhymes with "boner".

Shakespeare's mother is a big believer in therapy. She thinks Shakespeare would benefit from it, but he keeps saying no. I like this quote because Shakespeare presents himself as a fairly shallow guy, and I think this goes a way towards explaining why.

The truth is I know exactly why I'm resistant. I don't want a therapist to tell me things about myself I don't want to hear, and I don't want to admit that I have problems I can't deal with myself. It would be one thing if I could just go in and complain about my life, but having to confront and take responsibility for my shortcomings and insecurities is something I have no interest in.

More about this book:

It's one of ALA's Best Books for YAs 2008

Jake Wizner's web site. You'll want to check out his obituary generator and Top Ten lists, for sure. (He hates chocolate and peanut butter and loves gefilte fish with horseradish?!)

Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
: Warning: If you think my blog reviews are too detailed and spoilerish, you won't want to read this post.

Robin Brande liked it. (She wrote Evolution, Me, and Other Freaks of Nature, which I reviewed here.)

Flamingnet.com: One teenage girl's opinion (She recommends it for boys 14+.)

Friday, January 11, 2008

An Absolutely Truly Good Book

I was going to combine two books into one post again, but I went on so long on this one, I need to split the posts up. But both books are about boys coming of age. And because both authors well remember what it was like to be a teenage boy, both books have passages that may raise an eyebrow or two in some teacher/parental circles. Boys, on the other hand, won't bat an eye and will eat these books up. And both are also those rarest of things: books for older teenage boys that will make them laugh. Out loud, even. We don't get very many of those. (I don't know if they'll admit this, but they'll probably shed a tear or two, too. At the very least, they'll want to.)

The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
4Q 4P    J/S (recommended for 8th grade and up)

Let me introduce you to Arnold Spirit, otherwise known as Junior. He's a teenager growing up on the Spokane Indian reservation with an alcoholic father, a fantastically intelligent mother who gave up her college dreams, a wise grandmother, and a sister who spends her life in the basement dreaming (or giving up on her dreams) of being a writer. They are, like so many on the rez, very poor - in everything but love. That, they have plenty of. Junior is not a fine physical specimen. He has fluid on the brain, too many teeth, bad eyes, a stutter, a lisp, and seizures. He enjoys drawing cartoons, reading, basketball, and masturbating (he's upfront about that, so I might as well be, too). He is also very intelligent. The day he walks into his new geometry class and discovers that the textbook he is using was his mother's - which means it's at least thirty years old - is the day he decides he wants something more out of life than this. More than that, he deserves something more. The only way he can get it is by leaving the reservation and going to Reardon, the all-white school twenty miles away. His parents are supportive, but nobody else is. Even his only friend, Rowdy, is angry at him for betraying his tribe. When he gets to his new school, he's even more of an outsider than he is at home. Nobody knows what to make of this odd looking Indian boy. But slowly - very slowly - Junior begins to find a place in this new school. He's befriended by a boy who is even geekier than he is (he gets off - really gets off - on visiting the school library), he joins the basketball team, and he even gets a (lily white) girlfriend. But when he travels with his new team to play his old team on the rez, he realizes that some people will never forgive him for having dreams. But nothing they or life can throw at him will stop him from working to make those dreams come true.

This book is exactly what the title says it is: Sherman Alexie's slightly fictionalized version of his own life. There's a great deal of sadness and violence in it, which comes with the territory when you're writing about a life where everyone is poor, many are alcoholics, and most have given up their dreams. But there is also a tremendous sense of humor and hope.

A few random quotes:

[Rowdy] likes to pretend that he lives inside the comic books. I guess a fake life inside a cartoon is a lot better than his real life. So I draw cartoons to make him happy, to give him other worlds to live inside. I draw his dreams.

Prelude to a fight:
It was lunchtime and I was standing outside by the weird sculpture that was supposed to be an Indian. I was studying the sky like I was an astronomer, except it was daytime and I didn't have a telescope, so I was just an idiot. Roger the Giant and his gang of giants strutted over to me...I stared at Roger and tried to look tough. I read once that you can scare away a charging bear if you wave your arms and look big. But I figured I'd just look like a terrified idiot having an arm seizure.

Conversations with Gordy (his geeky new Reardon friend):
"Don't you hate PCs? They are sickly and fragile and vulnerable to viruses. PCs are like French people living during the bubonic plague." Wow, and people thought I was a freak.

"I draw cartoons," I said. "What's your point?" Gordy asked. "I take them seriously. I use them to understand the world. I use them to make fun of the world. To make fun of people. And sometimes I draw people because they're my friends and family. And I want to honor them." "So you take your cartoons as seriously as you take books?" "Yeah, I do, I said. "That's kind of pathetic, isn't it?" "No, not at all," Gordy said. "If you're good at it, and you love it, and it helps you navigate the river of the world, then it can't be wrong." Wow, this dude was a poet. My cartoons weren't just good for giggles; they were also good for poetry. Funny poetry, but poetry nonetheless. It was seriously funny stuff.

I was trying to keep this short, and it's not. So I'll stop here and just add one more comment. This book has gotten a huge amount of attention, including winning the 2007 National Book Award in the Young People's Literature category. I predict it will win the Printz Award on January 14, 2008 (if it doesn't, it will certainly be an Honor book). I liked this book a lot, but I'm not really convinced that it's the best book of the year written for teens. There's a lot to like about it, and the characters, particular Junior, are unforgettable. I've been rereading it as I tried to write this up and look for appropriate quotes, and I got involved in the story all over again. There are parts that are screamingly funny and parts that are achingly sad. But still, there's a bit of a disconnect for me. I think something I read elsewhere pinpointed what it is: something about the writing style makes it seems as though it's aimed at a younger audience. Don't be fooled. This is definitely a novel for high school teens (adults, too).

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Reading Roundup

Quick thoughts on a few books I've read recently:

Shift by Jennifer Bradbury
Two good friends (or are they?) take off on a cross country bike trip the summer before they head off to college. Neither of them has ever done anything even remotely like this before. Do they have the stamina for it? Do they have the maturity for it? Win's father doubts he has the guts for it. Chris and Win are determined to prove all their doubters wrong. But along the way, Chris begins to have his own doubts. Something is going on with Win, but he isn't talking to Chris about it. Chris is getting a bit fed up about it all. But he had nothing - nothing - to do with Win's disappearance. Too bad the FBI and Win's very, very powerful father don't believe that.

This one was intriguing. The use of flashbacks intercut with Chris's interviews with the FBI agent was very effective, making me impatient and curious to find out what had happened on the trip. I wouldn't call this a mystery. It's more a novel of self-discovery. Ultimately, I didn't buy the whole thing, but I wasn't left dissatisfied, either. Best read by people who don't need non-stop action or heart-stopping suspense but do like reading about interpersonal relationships.

The Poison Apples by Lily Archer
Three girls. Three rotten stepmothers. One boarding school. Not-so-instant bond. And then...revenge!

I liked this well enough, but I thought there were things that didn't hang together well. For instance, we're given to understand that Reena is a compulsive liar. Why introduce that personality trait if it doesn't play a significant role in the book? The subplot about Molly's mother is forgotten for large portions of the story. When it finally comes to the forefront, my first thought was, "Finally!" My second thought was, "Wait...she just found out (:x - not going to give it away here) and she does nothing about it?" The ultimate resolution of that story point seemed to come out of left field and felt tacked on, as though it wasn't very important to either Molly or the reader, even though it most certainly is. I also kept wondering if I'd missed or forgotten something when the romance elements crept in. I don't remember Alice meeting Jamal, but suddenly she had a huge crush on him. Say what? I also thought that the girls' voices weren't distinct enough. I could tell who was talking (each girl gets to narrate parts of the story), but only by what they said, not how they said it. Despite these quibbles, it was still an enjoyable read. I recommend it to teens looking for something quick and light. But readers looking for something with depth and complexity will probably want to look elsewhere.

My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger
This book is also told in three (well, mainly three) voices, and unlike the previous book, the voices are distinct. You can't possibly confuse T.C. with Augie or Augie with Alé. The book purports to be written as an English assignment as they look back on the diaries they kept during their "most excellent" freshman year. It's the year that T.C. falls in love and is forced to realize that being charming only gets a guy so far. It's the year that Augie realizes he's gay (it's no surprise to anyone else) and falls in love for the first time. It's the year Alé discovers that her talents lie in the performing arts, not the diplomatic corps, and that she's not as immune to charming as she'd like to think. It is also the year they meet six-year-old Hucky and get a whole new appreciation for Mary Poppins and American Sign Language.

Quick thumbs up/thumbs down:
  • Thumbs down: Of course Augie loves musicals and is a wonderful perfomer. He's gay, isn't he? (I'm a little tired of this stereotype.)
  • Thumbs up: Augie is also good at sports. Lots of them! And so is his boyfriend (who is not quite the performer that Augie is).
  • Thumbs up: Yeah, they're gay. So what? (This brings to mind David Levithan's Boy Meets Boy. Not realistic, but very refreshing to read about a gay guy whose only angst is due to not being able to figure out if his crush likes him or not.)
  • Thumbs up: The notes, faxes, emails, and chat room conversations which break up the diary entries. I especially liked the ones between T.C.'s father and adviser as they play the "we're not really falling in love" game. (Adults actually get quite a lot of page time in this book.)
  • Thumbs downish: Some of the parental notes get a wee bit cutesy, and Augie's mother's notes seem a bit tacked on.
  • Thumbs up: Parent-child relationships are strong and positive.
  • Julie Andrews comes through! (Hey, what can I say? Hucky's not the only one who loves Mary Poppins!)

Though this is a light, fun read, at its heart, it is about the power of love.
Though romantic love seems to get the most attention, there's also the love between two best friends and their families who decided long ago that biology counts for nothing when it comes to what brotherhood is really all about. There's the love between parents and their children, both when it's there in abundance and when there's no parent to provide it. It's also about the love that causes people to go the extra mile for someone. It's a hug of a book.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Reading Roundup, Part Two

Both of these books are about two girls who are outcasts. Both are very much worth reading.

Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr
5Q 4P S

It's the summer before her junior year, but Deanna Lambert is still remembered for something that happened when she was in eighth grade, when her father caught her stoned and having sex in the back seat of Tommy Webber's Buick. Three years later, he still hasn't forgiven her, and he's still not really speaking to her. At school, everyone knows what happened, and all sorts of rumors (most of them spread by Tommy) have made the rounds. Most of the girls don't speak to her, and the boys mostly want her to put out for them, too. If that wasn't bad enough, Deanna's two best (only) friends have just started dating, and Deanna's having trouble with that. And ever since her brother Darren got Stacey pregnant and they moved into the basement with their infant daughter, things have gotten even worse at home Their father is making everyone miserable. She just wants out. Out of her house, out of her town, and out of her life. Deanna has a plan. She'll get a job, save her money, and put a down payment on an apartment for herself, Darren, Stacey, and April. What she doesn't count on is that the only place that will hire a girl with a reputation like hers is a crappy pizza joint. And what she really doesn't count on is that Tommy is working there, too. She never loved Tommy. She was never even sure that she liked him. But she knows that she hates him now. But it's not like she has a real choice here. She needs the job. She'll just have to ignore Tommy. Unfortunately, Tommy is not that easy to ignore, and unfinished business has a way of demanding to be finished.

This is a story about relationships. It's a story about friendship and love. It's a story about what it means to be a family. It's a story about moving on, forgiving those who have hurt you and forgiving yourself. It's the story of a girl and so much more.

A quote or two:
Hearing his name like that, her saying it with so much affection like maybe she actually loved him. I don't know, but I wanted to knock the pizza and root beer off the table and run out of Picasso's. It wasn't fair, Lee getting to think about losing her virginity with a nice guy like Jason, someone who spent his last two bucks on her favorite cookie, someone who didn't get her stoned so he could feel her up, someone who didn't drive her to deserted parking lots without at least taking her out to a movie first. Someone who made a declaration for her, and not just in the backseat of a car. I didn't want her to have that, not with Jason. I felt so third grade, like I wanted to push Lee to the ground and say I knew him first.

I imagined a time not too far off when she and I would be pulling up to a different house, a different door. It would be a place we'd look forward to going to. We wouldn't be able to keep from relaxing into the seats as we pointed the car toward home. In a place like that, I'd be able to reach across whatever it was that couldn't let me be the kind of friend Lee needed that night, or to be the kind of daughter my dad wanted. I'd reach across and grab the hand of that other Deanna and say come on, it's okay now. You're home.

It came down to the smallest things, really, that a person could do to say I'm sorry, to say it's okay, to say I forgive you. The tiniest of declarations that built, one on top of the other, until there was something solid beneath your feet. And then...and then. Who knew?

Freak by Marcella Pixley
4Q 4P M/J

Miriam (also known as Shakespeare) knows she's not your typical seventh grader, and that's quite all right with her. So what if she prefers reading poetry and the dictionary to going to parties? So what if she prefers wearing comfortable clothes instead of the latest fashions? So what if she isn't the prettiest girl in the class? She's comfortable in her own skin. What puzzles her is why other people care so much about any of those things. What puzzles her is why her older sister Deborah, who used to be her best friend, has completely remade herself so that she can be popular. Now that Deborah has turned herself from a plain Jane into a beauty, from a weirdo into an it-girl, she wants nothing to do with Miriam. Her parents are no help. Not only are they excessively self-involved, they think marching to a different drummer makes Miriam special and respected. Miriam doesn't have the heart to tell them anything different. So when life starts getting really rough, Miriam has nobody to turn to but Clyde. She can tell Clyde anything. Clyde is her journal, and it's where she pours out all her feelings. She tells Clyde about the way the popular girls, led by Jenny Clarke, tease her, call her names, throw things at her, even push her around. She also tells Clyde about her crush on Artie, the senior boy who is living with her family while his is out of the country. Artie is her soul mate. He shares his poetry with her. He plays chess with her. He always takes her seriously. He is also seriously hot. Having Artie living with them for a year is a beautiful dream. But the dream quickly turns into a nightmare. The girls in her class find out about her crush on Artie and tease her mercilessly. Even worse, it soon becomes apparent that Artie isn't interested in her; he's interested in Deborah. The feeling is mutual. Miriam is crushed when word gets back to her that even Artie is saying cruel things about her. It gets harder and harder to pretend that she doesn't care. Because the truth is, of course she cares. But when she tries to "get with the program", things just go from bad to worse.

Miriam is a well-rounded character. You can see why some people would find her annoying. She talks too much, she puts herself in the middle of conversations she doesn't belong in, and sometimes she's so obsessed with herself that she can't see what's right in front of her eyes. But I admired her decision to stay true to herself. When someone needs her, she doesn't run away. When something goes wrong, she fights back instead of giving up. If that's a freak, we need more freaks in this world.

One long quote:
The only place on earth I hate as much as the lockers at school is the school bus. The school bus is a physical map of who's cool and who isn't. No one tells you where to sit...But if you know who you are, you know where to go. Here's how it works: the more popular you are, the closer you sit to the back of the bus; the more of a loser you are, the closer you sit to the front...Kids at the back of the bus are beautiful. They find each other because being seen together makes them look even better. Kids at the front of the bus know they are defective. they have pimples or glasses or crooked teeth or greasy hair. They are embarrassed to be seen. The only thing more dangerous than being a loser with a group of beautiful kids behind you is being part of a group of losers all corralled together, like pathetic lambs waiting to be slaughtered. And here's the worst part. We hate each other. We hate each other even more than the popular kids hate us. We hate each other because when we look at each other, we can see what they are laughing at.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Reading Roundup, Part One

I am so far behind on posting about books I've read recently (as in, anywhere from five weeks to five days ago) that I'm just going to do a quick write-and-run on several of them in one or two posts. If I try really, really hard, I can do this in two paragraphs or less per book. (Gee, there's a game show in that somewhere: "I can write that blog review in 100 words or less. No, I can write it in ninety words or less." "Reading Fool, write that review!" Oh, who am I kidding? 100 words or less? Maybe a 100 lines or less!)

Diamonds in the Shadows by Caroline Cooney
3Q 4P M/J/S

The Finch family is playing host to a family of refugees from Africa, and Jared is not happy about it. He particularly doesn't like having to share his room and his life with the teenage boy, Mattu. But that soon becomes just background noise to all the other things going on: How can the father, Andre, get a job, when he has no hands? And why doesn't he have hands? Why do Andre and Celeste ignore Alake, their daughter? And why doesn't Alake speak or even look at anyone? What does Mattu have in that box he carries around? Is it really just ashes? And how come this family doesn't act like any other family Jared's ever seen? Nobody else seems to be thinking about any of this. Jared's sister, Mopsy, is delighted to have a sister to take under her wing, and Jared's mother is in her element helping the family get settled in America. But Jared's father is so preoccupied with embezzlement from a fund he was responsible for he barely comes home anymore, and when he is home, he isn't paying attention. Jared feels that he's the only person in his family who is seeing the situation with clear eyes. But Jared doesn't know the half of it. In particular, he doesn't know that there was a fifth African refugee on the plane. And he doesn't know that the Amabo family has something that that refugee wants very, very badly. And though he heard the Refugee Aid Society representative say, "In a civil war, there are no good guys," he can't begin to imagine what that really means until the truth begins to come out. When that happens, Jared's indifference and frustration turn from shock to horror to terror.

Cooney knows how to get her readers' attention and keep it. And without being too graphic, she makes clear the horrors so many people in Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and too many other places in Africa have experienced in recent years. She makes you feel for her characters, even when you don't necessarily like or admire them. However, I did find some aspects of the story a little hard to swallow. In particular, I don't for a minute believe that the adults (especially Mom) would overlook the signs that something is strange about the Amabo family, especially when the kids pick up on it almost immediately. (Conveniently, they then seem to forget it until the climax.) But I am willing to overlook that and a few other things because this is a book that puts events of global importance into a situation and words that teens can relate to without being overly preachy and without sacrificing tension and drama.

My Life, the Musical
by Maryrose Wood (Advance Reader's Copy)
3Q 4P M/J/S

"There's No Business Like Show Business" Annie Get Your Gun, music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, book by Herbert and Dorothy Fields. Emily and Philip are best friends. Their friendship began in the line for the first preview performance of the soon-to-be smash hit Broadway show Aurora. Both were blown away by the show, and as a result, every Saturday morning for the past three years, they've taken the train to New York City to stand on the rush line to buy two tickets to the show. Over the years, they've gotten to know Ian, an aspiring actor, Stephanie, one of the dancers in the show, and all the other regulars on the rush line. Even Marlena Ortiz, the star, knows who they are. Their lives revolve around Aurora. Every English essay Emily writes is about Aurora. Philip keeps extensive spreadsheets on every possible aspect of the show. They even have their own Aurora chat room. They know every word and every note of the show. So they are naturally devastated one Saturday morning when Ian reports that he has it on good authority that Aurora is about to close. How can that be? It's still playing to packed houses! But one of their rush line cohorts soon sets them straight. The person Ian heard the rumor from is full of baloney and always has been. The show isn't closing. Whew! Except...the rumor is true. The show is closing. It's shocking! It's a tragedy! It's ...imperative that they see every single performance they can possibly afford to see from here until the ::sob:: end.

Intertwined with all that drama is more drama. There's the mystery of who wrote Aurora - the book writer/composer/lyricist has never revealed who s/he is, not even when the show won multiple Tony Awards. Then there's the problem of how to afford tickets to a Broadway show every week without committing a felony and the problem of how to appease your English teacher, who is sick to death of hearing about Aurora this and Aurora that. And then there's the problem of what to do about an absentee mother and a jerk of a brother who insists that you're gay. Yeah. That's drama.

This is the kind of book I wanted to read as a teenager. It's a book for every kid who has ever fallen in love with theater, whether they want to be the star, the stage manager, or the devoted fan. Even better, it's written by someone who has been there, done that. (I got the ARC by correctly answering the question "What cult musical did I [the author] appear in on Broadway?" A quick web search turned up the answer, and it was pretty cool to find out that we had a mutual acquaintance, since someone I knew was in the show too.) Do I think the book is a little over the top? Yes. But I wasn't reading it for realism. I was reading it for fun, and I got that in spades. I'm also glad that I got faked out a couple of times, since it's nice when you can't correctly predict everything that's going to happen in a book. In particular, I appreciated that the ending leaves a couple of things undecided. Life is like that, but books rarely are. And it's a fun conceit to have the chapter titles be apropos titles of songs from various Broadway musicals.

(So much for keeping it to two paragraphs!)