Teens who live for drama—class, club or otherwise—will give standing ovations to two YA novels centered on stagecraft and what goes on behind the scenes.
Superstition’s the thing in Robin Talley’s The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre. Sure, the Beaconville High School drama club honors traditional theater rituals such as no whistling backstage and saying “Break a leg” instead of “Good luck.” But under perfectionist stage manager Melody McIntyre’s leadership, there’s also an hilariously extensive spreadsheet of additional rituals and “countercurses” the club observes in order to prevent a catastrophe like the ones that’ve plagued BHS in the past (including a run of the Scottish play in which the theater burned down).
This year, the theater’s curse rears its head in particularly dramatic fashion: Melody gets dumped mid-performance by her girlfriend Rachel, the costume crew head, resulting in frantic efforts to handle missed cues and a painful and very personal conversation broadcast over the entire crew’s headsets. Afterward, the crew requests that Melody refrain from dating anyone else until after their upcoming production of Les Misérables has closed. It’s a wacky proposal, sure, but Mel sees their logic. Productions do seem more problem-plagued when she’s in a relationship, and she’s not feeling romantic after the breakup, anyway.
As actors and crew launch into a flurry of auditions, costume construction, lighting strategies and more, and a lovely new classmate who’s a professional actor catches Mel’s eye, Mel struggles to be true to herself without upsetting her friends. Is a problem-free production even possible?
Talley’s attention to detail, from cocoa that doubles as dirt on actors’ faces to the mechanics of various set pieces, is impressive, especially since, per her acknowledgements, she was never in a drama club herself. She also does an excellent, sharp-eyed yet sympathetic job portraying the groupthink that can occur in a tightknit bunch of people who are under great stress with a looming deadline: Everything feels like life or death, and anyone who does something unusual is suspect. The production’s trash-talking actors versus crew dynamic and the relentless countdown to opening night heighten the tension. Readers will delight in having a front-row seat for Talley’s funny, romantic tribute to high school theater in all its glory—both on stage and backstage.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Discover more great reads by YA author Robin Talley.
Audrey Winters’ senior year isn’t going as planned. Instead of swanning around with her beau Milo, she’s depressed in the aftermath of their breakup. She quit her beloved drama class so she wouldn’t have to see him, and she’s been avoiding her friends so she doesn’t have to talk about what happened between them. She’s also upset about the chaos at home. Her father cheated on and left her mother for his pregnant girlfriend a couple of years ago. Now, in the wake of his new insistence on selling their house, her mom’s been drinking too much, and her critical brother Dougie is absolutely no help.
It’s a state of affairs that would make anyone cynical and lonely, but things start to look up in Holly Bourne’s It Only Happens in the Movies when Audrey takes a job at Flicker Cinema in an effort to distract herself from her troubles. Enter her co-worker, Harry the flirty aspiring filmmaker. Multiple people warn Audrey to stay away from Harry, and she’s more than happy to, rejecting his advances with firm and wryly witty determination. Besides, the cinema’s really busy, she’s got to look after her mom and she’s working on a media studies project for school about the beautiful lies told by romantic comedies.
But as Audrey and Harry spend more time together at work and while filming his zombie movie after hours, she finds herself warming to Harry and, to her surprise, thinking that perhaps romance could be possible. Devotees of rom-coms will detect a familiar rhythm here, which is intentional: Bourne’s story follows a traditional romantic comedy arc while also serving as a critique of the genre. Through Audrey, Bourne questions filmmakers’ motivations, the cliches and tropes that have long been accepted and promoted by the genre, and the sexist underpinnings of it all.
It Only Happens in the Movies has a cinematic structure, too, complete with spot-on scene-setting (chapter titles include “The Chance Encounter” and “The Montage”) and character sketches (“The Best Friend Who Only Exists To Be Your Best Friend,” “The Bad Boy Who Changes His Ways Just For You”) that encapsulate essence of this popular genre with winking self-awareness. It’s a rewarding and grounded read with timely social commentary—and some fun with zombies, too.