Child actor Darleen’s reality begins to resemble her weekly silent-film adventures.
The once-beloved young “Darling Darleen” is now, in 1914, grown up at 12 and rebranded as “Daring Darleen,” starring in weekly adventurous serial silent films. Despite an absent mother, Darleen’s life has become routine at Matchless, her family’s struggling film studio in Fort Lee, New Jersey, the early hub of American filmmaking. When her family learns of the upcoming debut of the Strand Theatre in Manhattan, they contrive a fake kidnapping of Darleen on opening night to draw publicity to her film series. When the stunt turns into not only a real kidnapping, but the abduction of Victorine Berryman, “the Poor Little Rich Girl herself, orphaned scion of the Berryman railroad empire,” real adventures begin. In fittingly episodic chapters packed with smart dialogue, plucky characters, and dastardly villains, the girls must continuously save themselves from kidnappers out to steal Victorine’s fortune at any cost. As Darleen continues to uphold her acting duties throughout the shenanigans, readers learn early tricks of the trade, with an appearance by groundbreaking filmmaker Alice Guy Blaché adding to the fun; the apparently all-white cast underscores the deep roots of #OscarsSoWhite. True to Darleen’s work, the story leaves an open ending for a sequel. The concluding author’s note offers even more facts about the silent-film age.
Just like Darleen—a spunky blend of darling and daring. (Historical fiction. 8-12)