‘Could you cope with a script in French?’ asked Stella.
My mother and I looked at each other and shook our heads. Stella wrote NONE in the ‘Other Languages’ category.
‘Never mind,’ she said kindly. ‘OK, lets move on to skills.’
Now we’re talking. This was where my optimistic if scattered attendance at after-school clubs was going to pay off.
‘Instruments?’ Stella asked, pen poised.
‘Piano and er … violin,’ I offered.
‘Both at Grade 5 or above?’
‘Er … No.’
‘Everybody sang, right?’
‘Trained? Musical Theatre? Classical? School Choirs?’
‘Er … No.’
(Waiting for Callback by Perdita and Honor Cargill. P34.)
Elektra would give anything to act. She would be happy to play the talking carrot or Dead Girl 2 if it meant 10 seconds on camera. Elektra loves her after school ACT classes. The best thing about them is Archie, although she hasn’t managed to tell him. She’s tried to talk to him, but so far she hasn’t managed to mumble more than a couple of words.
When Elektra is signed by a talent agent, the waiting begins. The waiting, and the rejection, and waiting rooms full of girls who look exactly like Elektra.
Elektra deals with friendship issues and teen crushes as it becomes apparent that she will do more waiting than acting. How will she respond to the reality of acting?
If you want to write an authentic teenage voice, what should you do? Collaborate with a teenager. Written by mother and daughter team Perdita and Honor Cargill, Elektra’s voice was one of the most authentic I’ve read this year, (alongside Editing Emma, for reference.) Elektra isn’t an independent, multi-talented typical YA protagonist. She is a teenage kid. There is an assumption that teens don’t want to be portrayed as kids, but nobody explains where this assumption comes from. OK, we’re getting historical, but I remember refusing to watch The OC because it was basically about people in their 20s. Any similar book or programme was automatically vetoed. There’s a difference between exploring a slowly increasing independence and portraying totally independent characters.
I love Elektra’s friendships, and her family relationships. Friends put each other into awkward situations to gain social status. Other friends are there to commiserate over coffee. Everybody wants a boyfriend, but half the relationships are superficial. It was also great to see the conflict between Elektra the child and Elektra the young adult. Acting puts the clock back on Elektra’s independence. Suddenly, she needs escorting to auditions, and parental permission for every move. I loved how Elektra’s Mum’s perspective came across alongside Elektra’s. She’s a super-protective Mum who struggles with her daughter’s emerging adulthood.
The portrayal of London is spot-on. Too many novels set in London feature excessive numbers of landmarks, street-map precision and thought-provoking themes. Predita and Honor Cargill capture the bordem of middle class day-to-day life in London. Move it down the Central Line, and it could have been my childhood. I howled with laughter as Elektra tallied how many after-school clubs she had attended with how many actual skills she had (think 25:0 respectively.) Moss’s mother? I have met that woman many times over. I have seen parents buying up a shelf of KS1 revision guides, (yup, KS1.) I’ve met parents who say Food Technology and Drama aren’t real subjects, then ground their children for a month for messing around in said subjects. Parents who want the best for their child, but aren’t prepared to believe their child might discover their own ‘best’ given a little space.
The plot isn’t overcomplicated, and the book’s strength is its realistic voice and setting. This combined makes it super readable. I sped through, and can’t wait to read the second.
HUGE thanks to Amy at GoldenBooksGirl for sending this as part of a book swap. x