It’s the second semester of senior year at Janus Academy, an exclusive performing arts school, and five friends are preparing for the rest of their lives while struggling with the demands of the present. Joy’s dream is ballet, but the odds of success are slim—as her parents keep reminding her. Liv is stringing Ethan along by starring in his play (though she really likes her co-star Dave) and has a secret that threatens to be her undoing. Diego has been Joy’s friend forever but is ready for more. By the end of You in Five Acts, one of them will be dead.
Author Una LaMarche beautifully captures street scenes in New York City and breathes life into the school setting. It may be prestigious, but everything is a work in progress, from the cobbled-together theater sets to the students themselves. Each chapter, narrated in turn by one of the five characters, ends with an ominous reminder that someone is going to die. Clues feint one way or another, then lead to an unexpected conclusion. This structure creates the unusual problem of making the reader impatient for the tragedy to strike, and when it does, the reader doesn’t have time to process it.
Perhaps the strongest elements of You in Five Acts are the friendships between these characters and the different ways their dedication to art can be a saving grace or a curse. Book clubs will have a lot to say about the choices made regarding the ending and the references to current events, such as the use of excessive force by police against people of color.