As the chair of the programming committee for the Boedecker Art House cinema, I find myself drawn to young adult novels that are movie related. Three new fall releases in this category are on my list of recommendations this month. The Movie Version by Emma Wunsch is about Amelia and her brother Toby, who are obsessed with movies and living their lives as though they are in one, until Toby goes through a drastic personality change. My Unscripted Life by Lauren Morrill (The Trouble with Destiny and Being Sloane Jacobs) focuses on Dee Wilkie, who lands a summer job as a PA on a movie which stars a teen heartthrob on whom she has a crush. Finally, You in Five Acts by Una LaMarche (Like No Other) is a poignant story about five students at a performing arts school in NYC who are preparing for graduation.
In The Movie Version Amelia Anderson has always taken a back seat to her popular older brother Toby, whose goal is to live the "movie version" of his life. Obsessed with movies, the two of them have always been close, but lately Toby hasn't been himself, disappearing into his room to write in his journal or hanging out with the stoners and doing drugs. Amelia is in the throes of first love with a boy who lives in NYC, but finds herself distracted with Toby's struggles and covering up for his erratic behavior. When he is finally diagnosed with schizophrenia and institutionalized, she is devastated. Ultimately, she will have to decide if she will let Toby derail her life, or let go and focus on her own hopes and dreams. Wunsch, a film critic turned author, provides detailed movie references that are a cinephile's dream. Toby's flamboyant behavior which spirals into mental illness is heartbreaking and Amelia's reluctance to accept that the brother she idolizes is no more, will touch teens who are interested in realistic reads about teens dealing with family issues involving mental illness.
My Unscripted Life is a first person narrative about Dee Wilkie, an artistically talented teen, who is devastated when she is rejected by a summer fine arts program, but rebounds when fate throws her the opportunity to work on a movie set in her Georgia hometown. Dee is thrilled to find the film stars Milo Ritter, a famous pop-star she has had a crush on since middle school, but she is then disappointed when he turns out to be a jerk. As they are continually thrown together, she gets to know him and realizes there is a reason for his standoffish behavior, and she may just be the girl to change his attitude. Although this is a fun light read, the author inserts movie script elements and stage directions into the text, making this a cut above many teen rom/coms. Dee's internal monologues reveal a girl who is in the process of self-discovery and decisions about life after high school and it all plays out on a movie set. What's not to enjoy?
You in Five Acts is written from five points of view, telling the story of a diverse group of friends at Janus Academy, a high pressure performing arts school, in the months leading up to their final performances that will determine their futures. Joy, the African American ballerina, partners with the phenomenal Latino dancer Diego, who hopes their performance will move him out of the friend zone. Ethan, the Russian American playwright hopes to turn his muse, the Puerto Rican actress Liv into something more, while she crushes on Dave, the movie celebrity, who recently transferred to Janus and is her costar in Ethan's play. In each Act the narrator refers to the object of affection as "You." The plot is like a Shakespearean play in that love interests are continually shifting and emotions are misunderstood. Ethan's passion for Classic American film informs his play and he tries unsuccessfully to get his friends to share his obsession. Although Liv is supposed to be his girlfriend, she is decidedly uninterested in a romance with him. Her snarky relationship with Dave belies the crush she has on him, while he tries to disregard the feelings he has for her, because she is supposedly Ethan's girl. Diego and Joy indulge in dance films like Save the Last Dance and Center Stage, as they slowly acknowledge the passion they feel on the dance floor has blossomed into their offstage lives. The love relationships slowly work themselves out, as the story moves toward a tragedy that will change everything. The well-written sympathetic characters, the frequent movie references and the author's clear understanding of life at an arts academy make this a truly compelling read. It's release date is November 1, 2016.