The early days of cinema change a young girl's perspective on war.
To escape the Seattle rain and the gloom caused by her physician father's departure to serve in World War I, 12-year-old Isobel's mother packs the family (including 5-year-old sister Sylvie) off to visit Aunt Buzzy, who's recently married and moved to a small California town called Hollywood. Buzzy's stepson, Ranger, is obsessed with the town's nascent film industry and quickly pulls Isobel, whom he tags for his leading lady, into a series of escapades, including nearly drowning Sylvie, impersonating a Boy Scout in a war bonds parade, and pretending to be a real movie extra, all so he can create a movie that will impress his favorite director. Isobel is intrigued by the way film allows stories to be created from small scenes shot out of order; she begins to love the art of moviemaking. When her father returns home badly damaged, Ranger's movie becomes a way to express the family's love and grief. The novel is packed with cameos by Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and Charlie Chaplin (most of whom will be unfamiliar to young readers but will nonetheless tantalize), fascinating tidbits about the early days of film, and a relentless series of action scenes. Set dressing and quick pace aside, as narrated by Isobel, the story relies on—and delivers—solid characterization to drive it forward.
Impressive on all fronts. (Historical fiction. 8-12)