I couldn't help but be drawn to the concept of You Look Different in Real Life by Jennifer Castle. In our era of "reality" TV, to take a look at the story of some one who is put in the position of having their life filmed is brilliant. My only fear was that Castle would not do her idea the justice it deserves. No worries. This is an excellent novel.
For the rest of the world, the movies are entertainment. For Justine, they're real life.
premise was simple: five kids, just living their lives. There'd be a
new movie about them every five years, starting in kindergarten. But no
one could have predicted what the cameras would capture. And no one
could have predicted that Justine would be the star.
Justine doesn't feel like a star anymore. In fact, when she hears the
crew has gotten the green light to film Five at Sixteen, all she feels
is dread. The kids who shared the same table in kindergarten have become
teenagers who hardly know one another. And Justine, who was so funny
and edgy in the first two movies, feels like a disappointment.
these teens have a bond that goes deeper than what's on film. They've
all shared the painful details of their lives with countless viewers.
They all know how it feels to have fans as well as friends. So when this
latest movie gives them the chance to reunite, Justine and her costars
are going to take it. Because sometimes, the only way to see yourself is
through someone else's eyes.
First person present tense narration is not my favorite. I don't despise it, but I find it distracting. Justine's voice is so strong that after the first couple of pages I didn't even notice it anymore. Justine has a wonderful voice, vulnerable, angry, pitiful, sympathetic. She has faults and weaknesses but she is also endearing. I liked her at the same time I wanted to tell her exactly what she was missing through her self-focused lens. Yet the lens through which she sees the world and people around her changes through the novel and the way this comes about is brilliant. Her relationship with her family, her fellow stars, and the producers is wonderfully portrayed. It was interesting to see the other kids through Justine's eyes, the snippets shared from the first two movies, and the interactions they have with her. This is a diverse group of characters which is completely realistic. This group is exactly the group documentary film producers would love. Felix is the son of immigrants. Nate is a member of a local farming family and son of a young single mom. Keira is the bi-racial daughter of an English professor. Rory is an autistic girl. I came to care for all of them individually and as a group. They were genuine teens and Castle does an excellent job as portraying them and their world.
It was interesting to see how being filmed formed, changed, and influenced each of the kids and how hard they are trying to break free of that. I like that Castle didn't resort to cliche's in the portrayal of any of them or their parents. I appreciate what the story was saying about the phenomenon of filming "real" life and how it affects individuals as well as society, but that wasn't the main theme of the novel. The story is ultimately about friendship and discovering who you are and what that means in the context of those around you. The way the relationships between the five morphs over the course of the story is organic and even the romantic element works and comes off well.
I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys contemporary YA stories with great characters.
I read a galley provided by HarperTeen. You Look Different in Real Life is on sale June 4.