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Book Reviews

Totally Unrelated

by Tom Ryan

Cut the Lights

by Karen Krossing

Orca Book Publishers’ new Limelights series takes readers backstage and into the lives of teens trying to make it in the performing arts. Two of the first books in the series are Totally Unrelated and Cut the Lights.

In Totally Unrelated, Neil McClintock is an aspiring rock guitarist. The closest he’s come to living the dream is joining his parents and siblings onstage in the family band, playing traditional Celtic music that he can’t stand. To make matters worse, Neil feels like the black sheep in his multi-talented family. Not only is he the only one with dark hair, while the rest sport carrot tops and freckles, but everyone except Neil seems to have an innate musical sense. Neil fears he is “destined to stand behind them all, strumming my guitar and wishing I was somewhere else.” When Neil gets the chance to take part in a talent show with his best friend and a new girl in town, he jumps at the chance to hone his skills and play songs he really likes. Loyalties are put to the test when he must choose between a family gig and the talent show.

Author Tom Ryan weaves a pleasant if undemanding tale that will work for those at the younger end of the age range but may leave more advanced readers wanting more. Still, Ryan writes well, and there’s a positive underlying message about following your own path while honouring other responsibilities and commitments. 

Karen Krossing’s Cut the Lights is a slightly more complex offering, both in terms of storyline and character. Krossing is a confident, engaging writer, and the book’s setting is a kind of Glee-meets-Fame dream school that kids will find very appealing.

The story centres on Briar, who dreams of becoming a theatre director. She comes across as a little rigid and pretentious, intent on doing things perfectly and on her own. She promises herself that she’ll be “anything but ordinary” (which is how she sees her conventional parents) and much more successful than her out-of-work actress aunt.

Krossing cleverly begins each chapter with a scene-setter such as, “Outside Briar’s bungalow. Early evening.” This tactic works as a constant reminder of the girl’s tendency to frame the events in her life as if she were directing a stage show.

When Briar is asked to direct her friend’s play in the school festival, she’s delighted to take control of the action. Reality soon crashes in as the actors dispute Briar’s directions and one crisis after another erupts. After things take a very dramatic turn, Briar is forced to see beyond the play and her own needs, and grows up a little in the process. 

Given how many kids dream of stardom, the Limelights series is sure to hold wide appeal, especially if those lofty ambitions continue to be dealt with in ways that are encouraging and down-to-earth at the same time.