In the Cards: Fame by Mariah Fredericks
Current Mood: tired
Current Song: Shine by Joanna
When an elderly woman passes away, she leaves her three cats and her deck of tarot cards to her young neighbor Anna and her two best friends, Eve and Syd. Each girl narrates one book of the In the Cards trilogy, which is best read in order:
#1 Love (Read my mini-review)
#2 Fame (You are here!)
#3 Life (Read my full-length review)
In the Cards: Fame
Eve wants to be famous. She wants to be seen and heard, not just by adoring fans, but also by her parents. She also really wants the lead role in her middle school production of Cabaret. When she doesn't get the part, she learns a lesson or two in humility.
Eve can be confident and self-assured one moment only to pull back the next. She is easily distracted from her studies and would rather be on stage than sitting at her desk. She doesn't feel as though her father supports her dream to be an actress. She also thinks her parents favor her older brother, who gets good grades and is more of the model child.
At first, Eve doesn't want to try out for Cabaret, thinking it's beneath her: "A pathetic school play where Mommy and Daddy go clap-clap for their h*** spawn? How is that what I've been waiting for?" - but her best friend Anna talks her into it. Eve considers the competition, which includes Alexa, a classmate that has done television commercials, and Francesca, a girl has everything you need to succeed - looks, money, a dad famous for being a judge on a televised talent show - but is quiet and doesn't participate in class or clubs. Though she gets the part of a Kit Kat Girl, one of the three backup dancers, Eve is initially disappointed because she's not the star. The role of Sally Bowles goes to shy Francesca, which shocks everyone involved - until they hear her sing.
The cast is rounded out by Alexa, who gets a supporting lead (Fraulein Schneider) but, like Eve, is upset that she didn't get to be Sally; a jock who scores the part of the male lead; a kid who thinks his shtick is funny, even though the director tells him to cut it out; two popular girls who unexpectedly bond with Eve as they rehearse the Kit Kat routines; and overweight, picked-on Kenny, whose shines as the emcee. The play is directed by Mr. Courtney, the choir teacher, Anna oversees things as the stage manager, and Syd ends up playing piano for rehearsals when Courtney can't play and direct simultaneously.
Some parents don't think Cabaret is appropriate for middle school, so the school holds a meeting with these parents, administrators, Mr. Courtney, and the cast in which they openly discuss their concerns about lead character Sally's abortion and supporting character Fraulein Kost's many boyfriends. Courtney defends his choice, saying that nothing is specifically referred to in the play, just suggested. He stands firm, and the kids stand with him. Ultimately, he agrees to cut the number called Two Ladies and promises to focus on the history and lessons of the play. This scene is a great example of how to respond to a challenge related to content and should inspire a similar discussion in classrooms and households. I really hope that parents will talk about this and other portions of the book with their kids.
Eve has always struggled with her studies, and her grades slide even more now that she's busy with rehearsals. She knows that she should figure out how to manage her time more effectively, but she doesn't want to change her schedule. Meanwhile, Francesca - who is a good singer but an unconvincing actress - struggles with her role, so Courtney makes Eve and Alexa her understudies. He swears them (and stage manager Anna) to secrecy because he doesn't want Francesca to feel unappreciated. Eve becomes totally distracted by this news when she's supposed to be studying. After she fails a test, her dad wants her to quit, but she refuses: "It's not fair to the show to quit now. We go on in two weeks." Courtney is disappointed in her as well. They arrange a make-up test, which she passes with a B minus.
Then opening night comes, and Eve sashays across the stage with her fellow Kit Kat Girls. No one from Eve's family is in the audience that night because she forbade them to come. Francesca does an okay job opening night, stronger in some songs and scenes than others. After the show, when Alexa "accidentally" lets it slip that she and Eve are her understudies, ready to go at a moment's notice, Francesca falls apart.
The next day, Francesca doesn't come to school or to the second show. Courtney voices his disappointment in the cast and talks about the way everyone has been treating Francesca like she's inadequate rather than helping her grow into the role. Most of the cast hangs their heads, knowing he's right. When Courtney says that either Alexa or Eve will have to step in, Eve is suddenly confused rather than excited, and as she looks high and low around the school for Francesca, Eve wonders if she's really trying to find the missing girl or if she's simply stalling in an act of self-sabotage. Sure enough, she comes back late, so Alexa gets Sally and Eve is Fraulein Schneider. Eve finds her confidence during the first number, but Alexa's great performance as Sally makes her so jealous and sad that even though she keeps going, Eve knows she's not as good in the remaining scenes and songs as she was in the beginning. After the show, Courtney overhears Alexa's scathing comments about Francesca. He calmly gives everyone their notes, then announces that Eve will be Sally on closing night.
The morning of the last show, Eve is worried, but she doesn't want to complain or whine to her mom after having "banned" her from her life. Instead, she confides in her grandmother Yvonne, a lively soul who volunteers as an usher at local theatres. Yvonne is supportive of Eve's efforts and attentive to her concerns. When Eve says she's not pretty enough to make it as an actress, Yvonne shows her pictures of Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, and Judy Garland, and encourages her to keep acting, because talent is more important than looks.
Finally, it's time for the closing performance. Eve is nervous and excited and flustered and flattered all at once. She feels as though she's dreaming when she gets into Sally's first costume, a flashy red dress. She stumbles through some parts of the show, but she keeps going. Then she figures out where Francesca's been hiding and sends her onstage, both because and even though Francesca's dad is in the audience. He could 'discover' Eve tonight, or he could watch his daughter's hard work pay off. Francesca says she's not a performer - and she isn't, but again, she has the voice - and Eve knows she couldn't have done this unless others had helped her and encouraged her, while no one other than Courtney has helped Francesca at all.
I realize that I've officially spoiled the entire book for you, but I hope you'll read it anyway. I apologize for the spoilers - dare I say, the play-by-play - but I think you can tell that I really liked this book and felt compelled to talk about it at length. This is a really good and realistic story about a middle school musical production. Eve makes both good and bad choices and has to deal with what she's done, for better or for worse. She's not a perfect student, and she's not a perfect performer. She is selfish at times, and her stubborn streak is a mile wide. She may have to get her ego in check sometimes, but she's never conceited. Like Mr. Courtney, the play's director, Fredericks pushes her protagonist and lets her yell, scream, cry, get mad, get upset, and get embarrassed. The fights that Eve has with her parents will ring (true) in readers' ears, especially adult who have been on both sides of that battle as both the parent and the kid.
In addition to all of the major events I've already mentioned, I also liked a lot of little moments: I loved the fact that Syd insisted he permit her cat to come to rehearsals, as he is elderly and needed to take pills regularly. I liked that Eve occasionally scarfed down some Chunky Monkey ice cream when she was feeling down, but she did not have an eating disorder - she just did what a lot of people do and reached for comfort food every once in a while. I really liked Mr. Courtney, aka He Who Tells It Like It Is. He brought to mind some other motivational fictional teachers, such as Mr. Handsley in Looks by Madeleine George and Mr. Rush in Major Crush by Jennifer Echols.
Give In the Cards: Fame to the future stars that you know and love.
Note that this is the second book in the In the Cards trilogy. Grab up the other books, In the Cards: Love and In the Cards: Life. Get Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen by Dyan Sheldon and Dramarama by E. Lockhart while you're at it.
I've enjoyed all of Mariah's young adult and juvenile novels to date. The True Meaning of Cleavage is my favorite of her YA novels.
My favorite passages from the book include:
Lately, I look at someone like Alexa Roth, this girl at our school who's done commercials, or people not that much older than me on MTV, and I'm like, Should something have happened by now? Is it already too late? Like, did everybody get picked for the famous and nobody teams, and I'm with the nobodys? - Page 3
Is it going to happen?
Am I going to be famous?
Or just like everybody else? - Page 3
I want, Eve, you are on the road to fame and amazingness. Not, You'll get to sing at your cousin's bar mitzvah and your aunt Sadie will say you were great. I want big-time, bright-lights, major, mondo success. - Page 7
"If you want to be a success in show business, you have to get out there and work for it. There're too many hungry people out there, too many people who want the same things you want. You can't just sit at home, staring at the TV, and expect it to happen." - Peter McElroy, interview quote, Page 16
It's like having everything has totally screwed [Francesca] up in terms of getting what she wants. Or even knowing what she wants.
In other words, she's not hungry.
Whereas I am starving.
Yeah, well, if you're so starving, why don't you try out for Cabaret? - Page 33
When Eve has her card reading, instead of asking, "Will I be... (famous?)" or, "Am I going to be..." she asks:
"Am I going to make it?" - Page 41
"So, unless you're the star, you don't want to do it?" - Eve's dad at the dinner table, Page 101
I can't help it. All I can think about is Sally. Me as Sally. Thinking about playing her is like passing a mirror and getting a glimpse of yourself. You can't just walk on by. You stop. Think, Is that what I really look like? Only,it's not you as you were -- it's some fabulous, better, braver, more fascinating version of you. - Page 165
Parading around, I think, Nothing, absolutely nothing, has ever felt this right. I never want to leave this stage. Performing in front of an audience is a jolt of pure energy - the difference between a quiet night sky and fireworks going off. I can feel their excitement, their happiness, and it makes me want to do more for them. - Page 200, on opening night, during the opening number
Once upon a time, that would have made me feel better. Hearing that people thought I was good, that they liked me, that was all I needed. But not now. Now I know in my gut what a good performance is. And I know I didn't give one. - Page 227
"So, has it been everything you wanted? The show?" (Eve's mom)
Throat tight, I say, "Yeah. More, really." For a second, I want to pour everything out to her: Mom, they've given me this thing to do, and I thought it was all I ever wanted, the most important thing in life. But, Mom, I'm scared I'm going to wreck it, and what do you do whenyou wreck the most important thing in your life?
The houselights dim. The music starts - and the biggest night of my life has begun. - Page 246
They are staring at you because you are the star and they want to see: What do you got? Do you deserve to be the star?
It's sort of a dare. And I don't back down from dares. - Pages 246-247
There's a whisper in my ears. It says: When you get your three wishes, you don't ask for a fourth. - Page 273
But I DO Want to Be Famous!
But I Don't Want to Be Famous!
Sing Sing Sing
Cats Cats Cats