Thursday, August 18, 2011

Review: Reel Life Starring Us by Lisa Greenwald

Reel Life Starring Us
by Lisa Greenwald
September 1, 2011 
Received ARC from NetGalley
Amazon Page
Goodreads Page
Grade: B-

Synopsis (from publisher): Rockwood Hills Junior High is known for the close-knit cliques that rule the school. When arty new girl Dina gets the opportunity to do a video project with queen bee Chelsea, she thinks this is her ticket to a great new social life. But Chelsea has bigger problems than Dina can imagine: her father has lost his job, and her family is teetering on the brink. Without knowing it, Dina might just get caught in Chelsea’s free fall.

Filled with honest truths about status and self-confidence, as well as the bubbly, infectious voice Lisa Greenwald mastered in her breakout, My Life in Pink & Green, this book is sure to charm tween readers everywhere.

I’ll be upfront here. I hated middle school. High school (once I got over the “holy crap, I just moved to a new school in the sticks”) was fun, but middle school for me was the worst of all the high school cliches. I’m sure it didn’t help that I carried books like Leon Uris’ Exodus around with me everywhere. So maybe I’m slightly amused about the idea of a tale about people in middle school recognising each other’s individuality and learning to respect it.

Given that situation, I was actually impressed by how much I enjoyed Reel Life Starring Us. The setup up is that the new girl in town, Dina, gets paired up with Chelsea, the most popular girl in the eighth grade for a video project. Greenwald alternates between the girls’ perspectives to portray them both trying to handle fitting in, friendships, their family, clothes, and all the drama of a middle schooler’s life. It’s a nice device to show both girls having their own insecurities, that even the most admired person isn’t perfect, and that no one’s life is as great as it might look from the outside.

My favorite thread was the underlying theme of judgment - Dina desperately wants to be friends with Chelsea because she and her friends are the cool group, and so she judges the girls she sits with at lunch as ‘Acceptables’ - good enough until she can drop them to sit with Chelsea. Chelsea is intrigued by Dina and wants to be friends, but her friends can’t see the point of hanging out with the weird ‘new girl’ and pour scorn on the idea of any public overture. Both girls and by extension, all their classmates are missing out on possible friendships for fear of crossing those invisible social lines. Which...I think we can admit happens all the time.

The action leads up to an heavily messaged ending where the eighth grade class comes together to realise everyone is valuable, the girl gets the guy, and Dina and Chelsea become great friends. But for all the heavy handedness on the message, the writing is engaging and Dina and Chelsea are fun heroines who really do illustrate the pressures and worries tween girls from every clique deal with every day.

I think this might be a book that older elementary readers might enjoy more than preteens. Most preteens are going to be too sophisticated to be taken in by a message this obvious - even when it is a good one. But for an older elementary reader who might be worried about moving on to middle school and is confused about why her friends are suddenly starting to change on her, it’s a good reassuring read.

Many, many thanks to Netgalley and the publisher, Amulet Books, for allowing me to read a galley for review!

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