This is an interesting Friday Reads, because this book totally took me by surprise. I hadn't heard anything about it before the day I bought it. I probably wouldn't have picked it up in a bookstore on my own, based on the cover. (Not that it's a bad cover... it just doesn't quite sell the book for me. More on that later.) But I went to a YA panel at Books of Wonder a few weeks ago, primarily because my friend Lauren Morrill (author of the fabulous Meant to Be!) was on it, and Rachel Shukert was one of the other authors. Her first YA novel, Starstruck, sounded like fun, so I bought it that day—along with several others from the panel I hadn't read.
I'm so glad I bought Starstruck! It was a fun, glamorous, gossipy, pulpy, romantic romp through the Golden Age of Hollywood, and I would recommend it to anyone who likes movie history, or historical fiction in general, or stories about teen girls in unusual and challenging situations, or just fun, interesting, well-written books.
Starstruck is about Margaret Frobisher, a movie-obsessed teen from Pasadena who dreams of being onscreen herself. And then she's discovered at Schwab's Pharmacy by a studio executive looking to replace a missing movie star. Margaret has her name changed to Margo Sterling and is transformed from a lovely society girl into a true Hollywood ingenue, complete with new clothes, a platinum dye job, and, before long, a studio-manufactured romance with a young song-and-dance star (who's hiding a secret...). The only fly in the ointment of this perfect new life? She's actually falling for the studio's leading man, Dane Forrest, who was kind to her on her first day on set (and who is hiding secrets of his own...).
The book also follows two other up-and-coming stars: Amanda Farraday, an Oklahoma girl who made her way to Hollywood to escape a horrible home life and is a redheaded knockout (I pictured a Jessica Rabbit type) (and she also has secrets she can't let anyone find out), and Gabby Preston, a former vaudeville performer who's currently doing cheesy musicals but wants to be a leading lady—and date Margo's studio-mandated fella (and who, um, secretly will take drastic steps to get what she wants).
If it sounds like a tangled web—it is! But Shukert handles it all beautifully. In Hollywood in 1938, no one is who they seem. Stars come from all over and have new names and identities created for them by the studio. Everyone has something in their history they don't want the studio finding out, or that the studio is forcing them to keep secret for the sake of their career, or that they're keeping from the person they're starting to care about because it would jeopardize the fledgling relationship. Margo (especially when she's still Margaret) basically stands in for all movie fans: she believes everything she reads in Picture Palace and is shocked and dismayed as the curtain is pulled back and she learns the gritty details about how Hollywood really works. Of course, by the time she knows the truth, she's too far in to escape...
Shukert has packed Starstruck with characters that feel straight out of an old movie themselves, as well as references to actual stars and studios of the era, and it all comes together to create a rich, fascinating, and really fun read. Several questions/mysteries are left unsolved at the end, so I'm assuming this is the first in a series—and I'll be picking up the next one whenever it comes out! If you like old Hollywood, from the glamor to the seedy underbelly, check this one out.
(Oh, and the cover? It's not that I dislike it, but to me it looks too contemporary. She looks like Taylor Swift sort of done up like a pin-up girl. They couldn't have found a girl who looked more period-appropriate, without sacrificing the marketing aspect of getting today's teens to want to read it?)