First-time author Johnson’s multicolored, rhyming, free-associating story for teens centers on a loyal girl gang’s encounter with an evil schoolmate.
“Welcome to Starlette Universe,” Johnson writes. “Here you’ll find happiness, pun and mirth—And lots of life-lessons on self-worth.” Her tightly edited story is rife with wordplay: Lighthearted rhyme, palindromes, sophisticated vocabulary (agrestic, id) and neologisms (“darkle”—the opposite of sparkle) flow rapidly amid puns. Occasionally, the text indulges readers in a brief respite of straightforward verse. The story centers on the Starlette gang, including Skylar, “blonde and ditzy—and soo-o-o totally ritzy”; “Brainiac BEKKA loved her ringing cell phone—which was the closest she got to being ‘well-toned’”; and Ashlee, gentle and calm, whose spirit is “comforting as a psalm.” Evil Eva, the new girl on the block, is described as “‘EGO-SIN’tric” and “D-ANGER-ous.” Johnson weaves in the primordial struggle of good versus evil as Eva turns into a whirling dervish, invokes hexes, tortures animals and conducts shocking rituals in the woods that stun the Starlettes. After they rescue a cat that had been cruelly tied to a tree, the girls are at a loss: “It was not the STARLETTES’ style to insult—but they were dealing with the occult.” Potentially unfamiliar words—caveat, rife, valedictorian—are defined in footnotes, as are cultural references like Apocalypse Now, a “[m]ovie about the Vietnam War—which portrays war as something to abhor.” Girl power abounds among Johnson’s well-drawn characters while they alternate between witty and serious approaches to right and wrong. More illustrations could further enliven the book; as it stands, readers expecting to encounter page after page of colorful drawings will be disappointed to discover that the cartoons on the cover and in the introduction don’t continue into the multihued text.
An entertaining story with religious overtones and a vivid sense of good and evil.