by B. Lynn Goodwin
Many of us who caught the theatre bug caught it early. I was one so infected, performing in all my high school and community youth theatre productions. I can attest that even among the drama geeks who share the love of the bright lights and the thrill of performing live, cliques and clashes still exist. B. Lynn Goodwin, who clearly has greasepaint running through her veins, reveals what goes on backstage and under the footlights of a high school drama production in her new book Talent.
Almost-sixteen Sandee Mason is also afflicted with the theatre bug. Failing to get an acting role in her school's production of Oklahoma!, Sandee becomes both assistant stage manager and props mistress. But Sandee has more than finding props to occupy her extracurricular time: Sandee's brother, Brian, a soldier in Afghanistan, has been reported MIA. Sandee has always existed in Bri's shadow, but now the spotlight is on her because he is missing, and this isn't the type of spotlight she'd been hoping for. "I'll take my dramas onstage, thank you," Sandee says, but as luck would have it, that spotlight grows even more intense with the disappearance of some valuable—and potentially dangerous—props in Sandee's care.
If all that weren't enough, Sandee also has to deal with typical teenager challenges—fitting in; trying to communicate, usually unsuccessfully, with parents; navigating the minefield that is the opposite sex; passing algebra. Whether she spends a lot of time with teenagers or she has a very keen memory of her own school days, Goodwin beautifully captures the angst, the joys, the embarrassments, the delights, and the insecurities of teenagers struggling to find their place in the indifferent halls of high school. Goodwin appreciates young people—she knows them, she understands them, she relates to them, and she makes readers relate to them, too. Sandee is likable, honest, funny, observant, and quick with a comeback. Readers who've acted on stage, worked behind the scenes, or never stepped foot in a theatre will relate to Sandee's view of her situation: "Sometimes faking it is a lot like acting, except I'm in real life and have no script to follow."
The true mark of a gifted writer is writing that feels effortless. Such is Goodwin's "talent." She doesn't spend a lot of time on unnecessary description, allowing readers to paint their own pictures of the characters, their homes, the school, and the theatre. The limited descriptions also place the focus on Goodwin's particular skill: dialogue. And, oh, how that dialogue sparkles. It is snappy, clever, natural, true to life, true to teenagers.
Unfortunately, Godwin has not been served well by her printer. To avoid becoming distracted by the typesetting and occasional editing errors, take turns reading the book aloud with your favorite teen and demonstrate your own talent.
Though the book is about loss, it also about hope and friendship, loyalty and responsibility. Readers may find their throats tightening or their eyes welling up in certain passages, but the book is never maudlin or overwrought. Even Bri's letters to his family express inspiration and love, not despair, anger, or fear. Sandee thinks she hears her brother's voice encouraging her, but as the novel progresses, she finds her own voice, and it is a lovely, authentic voice. "Scenes end, but real life keeps going," Sandee says.
I found myself slowing down as I neared the final chapters, not wanting to reach the end and leave these characters, so I'm pleased that the author bio notes indicate that Goodwin is working on a second book featuring Sandee Mason. That's a performance I won't miss.
Read an excerpt from this book.
B. Lynn Goodwin is the owner of Writer Advice and the author of You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers. Her stories and articles have been published in Voices of Caregivers, Hip Mama, Small Press Review, Dramatics Magazine, Friction Literary Journal, Inspire Me Today, several newspapers, additional online sites, and The Sun. She conducts workshops and writes reviews for Story Circle Book Reviews.
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