Monday, October 7, 2013

Book Review: Starstruck, by Rachel Shukert (Delacorte Press, 2013)

Recommended for ages 12 and up.

Teenagers are fascinated by fame and the lure of Hollywood.  This phenomenon, of course, is nothing new, and in this historical novel set in the 1930's, author Rachel Shukert recreates the golden age of Hollywood for today's teen readers.  Our heroine, Margaret Frobisher, is a Pasadena debutante from a conservative old money family who loves going to the pictures and following the stars in the Hollywood gossip magazines.  When she's "discovered" at a Hollywood drugstore counter and invited to come to the (fictional) Olympic Studios for a screen test, her dreams are about to come true, or so it seems.  But things are not that simple--her parents are horrified at her decision and want nothing to do with her--proper society young ladies are certainly not supposed to make a career on the silver screen.  So she moves into the studio system, where she gets a new name, Margo Sterling, lives at the studio with other underage stars, and meets celebrities she only dreamed of in the past, including the dashing Dane Forrest (who appears to have been modeled on Clark Gable).

Shukert does a great job of evoking the days of the great Hollywood studios, when plump young starlets were put on amphetamines to slim down and then sleeping pills to let them sleep, gay men had to be completely in the closet to protect their image, and studio chiefs were in charge of everything to do with the stars' lives, down to who they would date and even marry.  Margo soon learns that fame is not all it's cracked up to be. Her idol, actress Diana Chesterfield, has disappeared, and Margo is cast in her place in a historical drama.  But what has really happened to Diana?  Several subplots are featured in this novel as well, including one involving a girl with a shady past as a paid escort who wants desperately to go "straight," and another subplot about Margo's studio friend Gabby (modeled on Judy Garland), who sinks into a world of drug abuse brought on by the studio bosses.

For those of us who grew up watching the great MGM musicals, many of these tropes will be familiar, but I suspect they are not familiar at all to today's teens, who will probably not even recognize the famous figures who are behind Shukert's fictional characters.  This is clearly the first in a series, and should appeal to girls who'd like to explore the meaning of fame in another era--one without cell phone cameras and 24 hour news cycles.

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