Friday, April 2, 2010

Review: Seeing Stars

Summary: Ruth Rabinowitz believes. She believes that her daughter, Bethany, is a terrific little actress, so they have come to Hollywood, where dreams come true. Ruth’s husband and Bethany’s father, who thinks their quest for stardom is delusional, has been left behind in Seattle.

Joining Bethany Rabinowitz in Hollywood’s often toxic waters are fellow child actors Quinn Reilly, who has been cast adrift by his family and excels only on Hollywood sets; beautiful Allison Addison, who is misled by her powerful need for love; and Laurel Buehl, who brings a desperate secret to LA that makes the stakes impossibly high. As talent managers, agents, coaches, directors, and teachers nurture—and feed on—their ambitions, stars will be made, hearts will be broken, children will grow up, and dreams will both be realized and die. -- Harper

Awhile back, I read and reviewed a novel by Diane Hammond called HANNAH'S DREAM. I thought the story about an elephant and her keeper was terrific, and it even brought me to tears. So when I found out that the author had a new novel out about kids trying to make it as actors in Hollywood called SEEING STARS, I couldn't wait to read it.

I liked SEEING STARS, but I have to say that I didn't love it like I did HANNAH'S DREAM. SEEING STARS was a pretty long novel coming in at over 450 pages, and I think maybe it was a little too long. It wasn't a difficult read and it did flow pretty well, but I thought the book could have been shorter while still including all the important plot and character elements.

I can't quite put my finger on why this novel didn't resonate with me, but I think might be that I just didn't care enough about the entire Hollywood scene. When I started the book, I thought I'd be very interested in inner workings of auditions, callbacks, and filming. I guess I thought it would be more glamorous or something, but I found myself being almost turned off by what these kids go through (and what their parents do to support them) for the very slight possibility of fame. I just didn't get it at all, although I do realize that the situations and characters in this book are probably very realistic. Maybe that was the part of the author's intent of this novel -- to let the reader see the "other" side of childhood actors.

You can probably figure out that I didn't really relate to any of the moms in this book either. I couldn't understand how Ruth left behind her husband to support Bethany's potential career. And that's really just the tip of the iceberg. Ruth and Bethany spent tons of time, money and effort while also sacrificing Bethany's education and friendships. Often times, I wondered if Ruth wasn't doing all of this because it was her dream as much as it was Bethany's. While reading this book I realized that I'm personally not cut out to be a stage mom. I couldn't leave my husband or my friends behind for my daughter's slight chance of becoming a star, and I definitely couldn't stand dealing with the constant rejection that my daughter would face.

Having said these things, I'm afraid that it seems like I didn't enjoy this novel at all; and that's definitely not true. There were lots of things that I did like about SEEING STARS. I still think Ms. Hammond is a terrific writer, and I think her writing style is enjoyable to read. I also liked that I did learn some of the inner workings of Hollywood, and I thought the gossip and scoop about actors, directors, agents, etc. was very interesting. And I really appreciated that this book made me think about a lot of things -- it was a new twist on some traditional topics such as mother/daughter relationships and family dynamics.

Some of the best things about SEEING STARS were some of the side stories. Besides Ruth and Bethany, the book also followed a few other childhood actor and actresses -- all with differing levels of success. One of the stories I particularly liked was about a teenager named Laurel and her mother Angie. Like Ruth and Bethany, these two left their family behind to follow their dream. Angie and Laurel both cared about each other deeply, and they each demonstrated their love by putting the other one first. I found Angie and Laurel's story to be the most interesting one; and in reality, I found myself wanting more of their story. I wanted to know more about these characters and the dynamics of their relationship.

I also really liked the story of Quinn, a teenage boy who was trying to make it as an actor while living on his own in Hollywood. I found his character to be quite complex and well developed. Like Laurel and Angie though, I wanted more of Quinn. I really wanted to know what made him tick, and I admit to being curious about what happens to him after the book ends.

As I read SEEING STARS, I couldn't help but think that parts of it read like a non-fiction book. It was obvious to me that the author had an insider's knowledge about the workings of "the industry" so I wasn't surprised to find that Ms. Hammond's family spent two years in Hollywood while her daughter tried to make a go of it with an acting career. You can read more about Ms. Hammond's inspiration for her novel here.

SEEING STARS would actually make a very interesting book for book clubs to discuss. I couldn't find a reading guide yet, but I'm sure they will be one available soon. There are a wide variety of topics to address including different parenting philosophies especially as they relate to mother/daughter relationships. Some other things that your group might discuss are spousal relationships, happiness, the Hollywood lifestyle, self esteem, parental support, etc. This book is just full of situations and characters that are ripe for discussion!

I do recommend SEEING STARS if you are looking for a touching story about the things kids and their parents go through in an attempt to find fortune and fame; however, I want to give a slight warning. There is a lot of insider information about the process a childhood actor and his/her guardian must go through in order to "make it" in Hollywood. I don't think this book is for everyone, but many of you will definitely enjoy the story.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for giving me the opportunity to participate in the book blog tour. You can see the other tour stops here.


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I'd like to read this one at some time as well. Glad u liked it!

bermudaonion said...

I think this story is probably pretty true to life. I actually know a family who did kind of the same thing for their daughter to make it in sports. They sacrificed so much and spent so much money and it was all for nothing. Very sad.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I don't think I could relate much to this either!

Carrie said...

I don't think I'd be head over heels for this one (at all) - BUT! It does sound like an extremely intriguing read. I bet you are right - it would be a fun book for a book club to tackle together so that everyone can offer their perspective to it.

Thanks for the review and for your thoughts. I enjoyed reading about this book!

Tribute Books said...

Might read,thanks!

Sandy Nawrot said...

THere is a show on one of the cable channels called "Little Miss Perfect", sort of a reality show about beauty pageants for little girls. My take away from that whole thing is a sick feeling in my stomach. I think more often than not, the parents are the ones who want their child to make it, whether it be in sports, Hollywood or these pageants, sometimes at the expense of the kid.

DCMetroreader said...

I didn't have a problem with the mother and daughter going to Hollywood to pursue a dream as this is what it takes to "make it." And when the price on their family became too great they left (and with the knowledge that they went for it).

The problem I had with the book was that Ruth and Bethy's story wasn't all that interesting -- at least compared to the side stories of Quinn, Allision & Laurel-Angie. I also thought the Vee Velman character-friendship didn't seem real (but maybe that was the author's point -- that it was strictly for convenience).

I also enjoyed all the insider's info -- especially the jargon.

Nice review!

trish said...

I can't believe someone would leave their spouse to pursue an acting career! I wouldn't like that at all. But the side stories sound great! Much more up my alley. :)

Thanks for being on this tour, Julie!