Saturday, January 09, 2010

Book Review: Eyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev

Book: Eyes Like Stars
Author: Lisa Mantchev
Published: 2009
Source: Local Library

Beatrice Shakespeare Smith, better known as Bertie, has always lived in the Theater. Not just the theater world, where people put on greasepaint and costumes every night but go back to their homes and drink coffee and eat scrambled eggs in their own kitchen. No, she grew up in the Theater, going to Wardrobe for all her clothes, eating in the Green Room, and sleeping on a "teenage girl bedroom" stage set. It's the only life she's ever known. Yet she is an anomaly, the only person in the Theater without a role. Everyone else is a character from some play or another, but Bertie is only Bertie. Now seventeen, she's into all manner of mischief, prompting the Stage Manager to threaten her with expulsion from the Theater. Bertie strikes a deal that if she can make an invaluable contribution to the Theater in the next few days, she can stay in the only home she's ever known.

But by her very nature, Bertie stirs things up, and things don't stir up well in a world defined by scripts. Before she knows it, Bertie is hip-deep in trouble, scrambling to find the answers to questions she's never bothered to ask. Questions like, how exactly did Bertie come to the Theater? Who were her parents and why aren't they around? What is the mysterious Book, and what will happen if Ariel (yes, that Ariel) succeeds in tearing out all the pages and setting himself and all his fellow characters free?

And most importantly, how does the only person in the Theater without a script or a role decide what she's going to do next?

Beatrice, from "Much Ado About Nothing," is my all-time favorite Shakespeare heroine, and this Beatrice more than lives up to her namesake. She starts out literally playing the role of a teenager--dying her hair blue, smoking, talking back to the authoritarian Stage Manager. But underneath, you have the strong sense that she is still the same Bertie she ever was, happy to bounce along in her carefully defined world, where the fairies from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" are always mischievous and Ophelia can be depended upon to talk crazy and drown herself in any handy body of water.

But the events of the book force Bertie to change, shifting into new roles. She initially tries to fit these new roles through wardrobe and prompts, but it's her own choices and mistakes that take her further away from the child she was into the adult she could be. At its heart, Eyes Like Stars is a book about the ragged edge between childhood and adulthood, between wanting everything to stay the same and taking responsibility for the changes you create.

I remained as confused at the end as I was at the beginning about the exact nature of the Theater, but maybe I was overthinking. Even more than fiction, theater requires the willing suspension of disbelief, meaning you shouldn't think too hard about people that apparently become invisible to everyone by hiding behind a potted plant, or an "army" that consists of as many extras as the stage manager could spare from other parts. Aside from this fuzziness, this is a book for anyone who loves the theater, especially Shakespeare. Although the Theater is meant to contain all the characters from every play ever written, there are really only a couple of on-stage characters not taken from the Bard, and knowledge of the originals makes the characters in the book even more interesting, especially Ariel. Plus you'll get more of the jokes.

I finished the book in two minds about whether I wanted this to be a series or not. On the one hand, I loved the way it ended. While it's a sort of open ending, it also nicely wraps up the story in progress, leaving Bertie on the cusp of new adventures. On the other hand, there were people to find and rescue, answers to be sought. A little Google-fu informed me that this is the first in a series, and the second, Perchance to Dream, comes out in May. I guess I'll get answers to my questions then, but I am looking forward to seeing more of Bertie.

ETA: source, cuz I forgot it the first time.


Melissa said...

I've heard a lot of mixed feelings about this one from others, too. I love the cover, though, and I may just pick it up because of that.

Katie said...

I tried to start this one a couple of times and just haven't managed to get into it. But I loved your description about this book being a book on the "ragged edge" between childhood and adulthood.

That's the most compelling argument I've heard about it and I think I'll give it another try. :D

Bibliovore said...

The cover is lovely, Melissa. Like I said, the setting is so fascinating to me that I wonder how the sequel will fare without it.

Katie, glad to hear my review intrigued you enough to crack it open again! The ragged edge bit is actually from Ophelia in the book, but I stole it because it seemed to fit Bertie so well.

Shelf Elf said...

I agree with Katie that your classification of this title as being on the "ragged edge" between childhood and adulthood makes me automatically more eager to read it.

Like Melissa, I adore the cover. Haven't read it yet though.

If you haven't read Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston, it's another YA novel about theatre, set in Central Park. You might like it.

Angela Craft said...

Wow, that's a gorgeous cover - the blue hair definitely caught my attention! (I have a weak spot for blue-haired heroines, after spending my own adolescence with rainbow colored hair) That it's about Shakespeare and theatre just makes it seem more awesome. This is definitely going on my TBR pile.

I second the suggestion for Wondrous Strange - in that one the main character is playing Titania in a play while several of the characters from Midsummer are running amok in New York City. I reviewed it this summer.

Bibliovore said...

Angela and Shelf Elf, I read Wondrous Strange and really thought I was going to enjoy it, but midway through it turned into sort of a slog for me. I was disappointed. But I can see where it would be a readalike for ELS, especially for theatre buffs.

Anonymous said...

This one is on my To Be Read list. I love theater and Shakespeare and the cover really attracted me. I'm looking forward to giving it a try.

I Heart Monster said...

One of my top 5 for 2009. I really really enjoyed ELS, and am eagerly awaiting Perchance. But, I'm totally with you on the nature of the theatre... I think we'll probably find out more later on, or at least I hope we will!

Jan von Harz said...

Your review definitely peaked my interest. Being a former theatre major I will have to check this one out. Thanks for sharing.

Patti said...

I picked this one up awhile ago, but ended up putting it down. I do love the cover though!

Jaymie said...

Interesting reviews of this book. I think I am going to wait on this one. The mixed reaction is a little intriguing, but this Comment Challenge has me adding so many books to my list, I can barely keep up. I will keep my eyes open for this one at the library. Maybe this summer when things slow down I will try it out.