Middle school students have reading interests that run the gamut from Diary of a Wimpy Kid to Twilight. Sometimes as a parent it is hard to know what is age appropriate for your child. Through this blog, I will try to help parents make informed decisions about what is available in our library. I am hoping that this blog will be a resource for our parents, and that we can all work together to make our students life-long readers!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Jack & Louisa: Act 1

Jack & Louisa: Act 1
by Andrew Keenan-Bolger
Kate Wetherhead
From the publisher:
"Twelve-year old Jack Goodrich was a Broadway star, with two shows under his belt and a third in rehearsals. But when his voice changes suddenly, Jack and his parents leave the spotlight and move from New York City to Shaker Heights, Ohio. While Jack hopes to leave his Broadway past behind, his new neighbor refuses to let him off the hook. Louisa is a self proclaimed "musical theater nerd" and can hardly believe when an actor moves to town. What’s more, the local theater has announced auditions for her favorite show, “Into the Woods.” As the audition date looms nearer, the two are faced with difficult choices. Should Jack risk humiliation and return to the stage? Will Louisa have confidence to go it alone? And can their friendship survive all those complicated octave leaps? "

This book may not be for everyone because of all of the musical theater references that most won't get, but oh, how I loved it! If  Better Nate Than Ever, with its bad language and sexual references is too edgy for you (like it is for me), than this is the musical theater-themed book for you. I will admit to being slightly obsessed with the authors' web series Submissions Only , which is why I wanted to read Jack and Louisa, Act 1 , but even if you have never heard of authors/Broadway veterans Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Kate Wetherhead, this is still a fun read. And if you are a confirmed Musical Theater Nerd (MTN) like myself, what are you waiting for?! 

I wasn't thrilled by the characters' infatuation with Stephen Sondheim's Into The Woods . In fact, if you mention that musical to anyone in our family we start singing in atonal voices, "Into the woods, into the woods, into the woods, into the woods". And yes, I do know that brands us as Broadway plebians because only the truly cultured "get" Sondheim, but I did bond with Louisa's dad in the book when they were discussing Sondheim.

"You just don't appreciate the complexity of Sondheim," I muttered.
Dad looked at me, eyebrows raised. I could tell my big words had impressed, or at least surprised him. Still, he wasn't about to give in.
"I 'appreciate the complexity' of a turbine engine," Dad said with a smirk. "THAT is complexity worth appreciating. This Sondheim stuff sounds like a record skipping." 

Amen, brother.

Aside from not liking  Into the Woods , I loved everything else about this book. The story is fun, the main characters are very likable, and the Broadway and New York references spoke to this poor, New York-deprived Colorado girl. I am lucky enough to have taken a couple of trips to New York, and this next quote from the book reminded me so much of a girl's trip I had with 2 of my daughters last year at this time. We just wanted to blend in and not look too touristy - so to accomplish that we had my son-in-law take a picture of us standing nonchalantly in Grand Central Station reading the paper and messing with our phones - mission accomplished! In this quote, Louisa just found out that her new neighbor, Jack, moved to her neighborhood in Shaker Heights, Ohio, from New York City. She got excited about that and he asked her if she had ever been there.

"To New York? Yeah, a couple times," I replied, like going to the cultural capital of the world was no big deal. Like I hadn't squealed with delight the first time I walked through Times Square, or practically fainted when I got a picture with Tony Award-winner Norbert Leo Butz in front of Schmackary's Cookies. Exposing my inner geek was a delicate process. I needed to at least attempt to be cool." 

Or maybe it reminds me of last summer when I flew to Long Island on a Tuesday for the birth of my granddaughter, told my daughter not to have the baby for another day and took the train into the city by myself on Wednesday (the baby obliged and didn't come for another couple of days). I walked from Penn Station to the Shake Shack on 8th Avenue, stood in the long line on a hot July day (while pretending to talk to someone on the phone so I looked like a "real" New Yorker), got my shake and fries and walked to the St. James Theater just down the street to go to the matinee of Something Rotten! . I was incredibly early, and as I was standing in front of the theater all by myself with a fry halfway up to my mouth, Tony Award-winner Christian Borle walked right in front of me. I'm pretty sure I stood with my mouth open and my hand holding the fry frozen in the air just watching him walk to the stage door... but it is all kind of a blur :) . So you can see why I connected to Louisa in that moment. I try not to expose my inner geek as well - and I'm not a 12 year old girl! (And yes, we are planning another girls trip to New York in the fall and Schmackary's is definitely on the docket, along with Magnolia Bakery and 16 Handles. Not that I obsessively watch broadway.com's backstage shows like The Princess Diary or Renaissance Woman - where they talk about the wonder of those places - or anything.)

So, do you have to be a Musical Theater Nerd to like this book? No, it is a sweet and fun story even if you don't get all thrilled and tingly at the Broadway/New York references. However, if you ARE an MTN, you will absolutely love it like I did. I can't wait to read Act 2! And now I have to find out which of my middle schoolers will love it as much as I did. (I do have one student named Sutton, and the first time she checked out a book I told her one of my favorite Broadway performers was named Sutton and she knew who I was talking about - that bodes well.) 

Areas of concern:
Nothing, really.  I don't remember any bad language.  Both main characters had loving, supportive families, there are no sexual references.

Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 8-12
School Library Journal - Grades 6-8

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