Engaging behind-the-scenes look at a lonely young Hollywood star's tragedies and triumphs.

UNSCRIPTED JOSS BYRD

A critically acclaimed child actor struggles with her insecurities, a fame-hungry momager, and a demanding director.

Twelve-year-old Joss Byrd is Hollywood's latest sensation, a “scrappy,” "wise beyond her years" young white thespian in the Dakota Fanning and Tatum O'Neal mode. On the set of ambitious director Terrance Rivenbach's gritty autobiographical coming-of-age drama, The Locals, Joss has trouble balancing her personal and professional lives. Secretly dyslexic, Joss needs her on-set tutor to skip regular lessons and help her memorize continuously revised lines. Complicating things, Joss harbors a crush on her 14-year-old screen brother, is frightened by the method co-star who plays their abusive stepfather, and is unhappy with disturbing scenes added to the script. Meanwhile, single mother Viva, who’s lost most of Joss' previous earnings, openly flirts with the married director. Through her thoughtful, unconfident main character, the author, a private tutor for school-aged actors, realistically pulls back the curtain on the difficulties professional child actors face. Unfamiliar readers may be particularly curious about O'Neal, Joss' oft-mentioned acting muse, and her unforgettable performance in Paper Moon. Although the young protagonist makes the story seem exclusively for middle graders at first glance, sympathetic Joss' journey delves into themes like living with learning disabilities, dealing with celebrity culture, sexual precocity, and understanding the difference between actors' public and private selves, broadening its audience.

Engaging behind-the-scenes look at a lonely young Hollywood star's tragedies and triumphs. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Aug. 23, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62672-369-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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Not quite the wild ride of Skyward (2018) but still great fun.

STARSIGHT

From the Skyward series , Vol. 2

As if the threat of huge, raging monsters from hyperspace isn’t scary enough, hotshot fighter pilot Spensa Nightshade becomes embroiled in an alien empire’s politics.

On a desperate mission to steal hyperdrive technology from the crablike invading Krell who are threatening to destroy her beleaguered home colony on Detritus, Spensa, who is white, holographically disguises herself as a violet-skinned UrDail and slips into a Krell pilot training program for “lesser species.” The discovery that she’s being secretly trained not to fight planet-destroying delvers but to exterminate humans, who are (with some justification, having kindled three interstellar wars in past centuries) regarded in certain quarters as an irrationally aggressive species, is just one in a string of revelations as, in between numerous near-death experiences on practice flights, she struggles to understand both her own eerie abilities and the strange multispecies society in which she finds herself. There are so many characters besides Spensa searching for self-identity—notably her comic-relief sidekick AI M-Bot, troubled human friend Jorgen back on Detritus, and Morriumur, member of a species whose color-marked sexes create trial offspring—that even with a plot that defaults to hot action and escalating intrigue the pacing has a stop and start quality. Still, Spensa’s habitual over-the-top recklessness adds a rousing spark, and the author folds in plenty of banter as well as a colorful supporting cast.

Not quite the wild ride of Skyward (2018) but still great fun. (Science fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-55581-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Characters to love, quips to snort at, insights to ponder: typical Spinelli.

DEAD WEDNESDAY

For two teenagers, a small town’s annual cautionary ritual becomes both a life- and a death-changing experience.

On the second Wednesday in June, every eighth grader in Amber Springs, Pennsylvania, gets a black shirt, the name and picture of a teen killed the previous year through reckless behavior—and the silent treatment from everyone in town. Like many of his classmates, shy, self-conscious Robbie “Worm” Tarnauer has been looking forward to Dead Wed as a day for cutting loose rather than sober reflection…until he finds himself talking to a strange girl or, as she would have it, “spectral maiden,” only he can see or touch. Becca Finch is as surprised and confused as Worm, only remembering losing control of her car on an icy slope that past Christmas Eve. But being (or having been, anyway) a more outgoing sort, she sees their encounter as a sign that she’s got a mission. What follows, in a long conversational ramble through town and beyond, is a day at once ordinary yet rich in discovery and self-discovery—not just for Worm, but for Becca too, with a climactic twist that leaves both ready, or readier, for whatever may come next. Spinelli shines at setting a tongue-in-cheek tone for a tale with serious underpinnings, and as in Stargirl (2000), readers will be swept into the relationship that develops between this adolescent odd couple. Characters follow a White default.

Characters to love, quips to snort at, insights to ponder: typical Spinelli. (Fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-30667-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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