Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4
Genre: Realistic fiction
What did you like about the book? Mel’s dreams have come true: she’s been tapped as Beaconville High’s stage manager (first junior ever!) and the drama department has chosen Les Misérables as the spring musical. She needs the boost, because her girlfriend Rachel just broke up with her very publicly, i.e., in the the midst of running lighting cues for the fall production of Romeo and Juliet. The Beaconville drama kids, consumed by superstition after an error-plagued Ma—th during the theater’s 2007 opening performance, have a long tradition of countering curse with countercurse. Mel’s crew fixates on her active dating life as the source of recent bad luck and insists that she refrain from falling in love during Les Miz. In true rom-com fashion, teen ingénue and budding star Odile Rose returns from a film shoot in Finland and the two soon are head-over-heels for each other. Mel’s desperate to keep the relationship secret but bad things keep happening.
This delightful romp took me deep into the world of high school theater productions. Talley counts down to opening night with chapter headings and pulls in epistolary support from facsimiles of parent permission forms, rehearsal schedules and Mel’s meticulous production notes. As Mel’s the stage manager, no element of theater is overlooked: raids on thrift shops for costumes, cocoa powder to simulate dirt on the peasants’ cheeks, building and painting the massive rotating turntable, the endless music, dance, and acting rehearsals. Side plots focus on the inevitable feuding between actors and the crew, Odile’s ambivalence about a film career, and some tension with Mel’s two dads about her plans for college. The romance between the main characters was sweet and strictly PG-13. One of Mel’s dads is Puerto Rican, but she doesn’t openly identify as BIPOC (she’s adopted). Other main characters are White, although many in the cast and staff are cued as BIPOC.
Anything you didn’t like about it? I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that Mel is a junior at an aspirational public high school who dreams of attending UMass Amherst and yet spends absolutely zero time studying. In fact, aside from one trip to Spanish, she never even attends a class! Balancing schoolwork with the demands of theater is a HUGE issue and Talley could have deepened the book by acknowledging that and looking at how theater kids handle time management.
To whom would you recommend this book? Theater geeks will love this one. I learned so much about high school drama productions just from reading it! Although Mel and Odile both identify as bisexual, there’s no coming out moment or anti-LGBTQ+ bullies, so cheers for teen novels that focus on the romance. Recommended for grades 7 and up.
Who should buy this book? Middle, high school and public libraries
Where would you shelve it? YA fiction
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No
Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA
Date of review: April 22, 2021