Eyes Like Stars (Théâtre Illuminata, #1)
by Lisa Mantchev
Beatrice "Bertie" Shakespeare Smith has lived in the Théâtre for as long as she can remember. She loves the crazy cast of characters who populate her life and she loves getting up to crazy antics with them. She loves the stories and the Stage and everything about it. (Well, maybe she doesn't love the Stage Manager...) But when Bertie's antics go too far, the Theater Manager asks her to prove herself to be a valuable member of the Théâtre -- or leave. Desperate not to be exiled from her favorite place in the world, the only home she's ever known, Bertie sets out to find her place in this zany world -- and she may find more than that.
I had been foaming at the mouth wanting to get my hands on this book ever since the cover was released. When my bookclub decided it was going to be one of the books we read this year, I agreed to be a good girl and wait to read it. And hey! I actually kept my word and was a good girl! Go figure.
So after all that anticipation -- which is sure to kill anything -- that month's bookclub meeting was one of the most disappointing for me, ever. [frowny face]
But here's the thing -- I loved the book. It's just that I was the only one, and after the cursory "ehhs" from all around, everyone moved on to what else they've been reading. This disappointed me, because though I love that portion of our meetings, I actually did want to talk about this book, but I wasn't going to keep dragging the conversation back to a book no one liked and listen to them bash it.
So my warning is, if you're a smart woman well into adulthood, you may hate this book. That seemed to be the consensus.
But I loved it, and I'm about to tell you why...
I dig literary allusions. I accept that I am a nerd and embrace it. I was a bit worried about the allusions in this going in, though, not because I didn't think I'd like them, but because it is a YA book, and I wondered if it would even be accessible to the YA audience. Since I'm not a teen, I can't speak to this other than to say that a)I was the kind of annoying, precocious/pretentious teen that thought herself very literary, and I would have eaten them up, and probably looked into the ones I didn't get and expanded my drama base; and b) I've read a few reviews of the book that were written by teens, and they all seemed to love it, literary allusions included. Oddly enough, it was among adults that there seemed to be a problem. Except those of my friends actively involved in theater, the adults did not like the allusions; they appreciated them, but they admitted that 1/2 the time, they didn't get them. So I'm thinking that maybe I underestimated teens (and overestimated adults), and that really, Mantchev didn't take as big a risk here as I thought, because teens are still in school, after all, and the references are more current for them than they would be for an adult who doesn't read or watch dramas. Personally, I loved the allusions. There are a few in the quotes section below that tickled me to no end; they become these little inside jokes for those who do know about -- or enough about -- theater to get them, but I think you can still enjoy this without knowing all of them.
Another big draw for me was the world and the style in which Mantchev presented it. I loved the Théâtre and the Players and the world Mantchev created. It was really fun to become immersed in, and it was very visual and interesting. She took something well-known (the world's most famous stories and characters) and made them her own while still staying true to the original, and it came off very nicely. I could picture everyone, I could see them in my head -- her dramatic almost-play style was very effective and made me feel like I was, indeed, a part of the audience. The whole thing came off as very fresh and creative and unique, and I love that. There's just not enough of that.
But perhaps the biggest draw for me was Bertie. I never thought I'd like a character named "Bertie," I'm not going to lie, but like her I did. Berite is funny and feisty and creative and I adored her. There's a quote below that demonstrates her feistiness quite nicely, so I won't waste your time going into all that other than to say that she will win you over. She just will.
So that's why I liked it. But to be balanced, I am going to give you a few of the drawbacks that my bookclub found, and that you may not like, either:
- The tone does come off a bit young. Not unbearably so, and I think it's really just a part of the lightness, the breeziness of it, but it does read younger than I expected, and than my bookclub was willing to stomach.
- The allusions, again, may not be everyone's bag.
- The love triangle(ish). This is actually a drawback of mine. It's not that I didn't like the 3 characters involved, or the tensions between them, because I did. [side note: Ariel is one of my fave lit characters, so I loved his role in this. And nothing to do with the triangle, but Ophelia is another fave, and I loved her role, too.] But I am so sick of the Team _________ shit, really I am, that I just kind of cringe when I see someone using that formula. You will never hear me say that I am Team anybody. It irks me. Someday there will be a rant on this, but I'm not going to take up this review to do it. But seriously. Enough with the Teams and the triangles.
- There is a certain predictability that may bother people, but I don't think it's overwhelming or detracts all that much from the story. Just a fair warning.
Some of my favorite scenes and quotes:
"What are you doing here?"
"I heard the water running." Ophelia lifted her arms up and smiled into the ghostly, aquamarine lighting. "I thought I'd come and drown myself. I won't be in the way, will I?"
~ ~ ~A sudden, trumpeted fanfare sent them leaping apart, the blast of noise precefing the messenfer from Act Four of Richard the Third. He entered Stage Right, unrolled a parchment scroll, and cleared his throat. In a strong, sonorous voice, honed to cut through the bedlam at court or merely backstage, he proclaimed, "And now, the bane of your existence, the killer of all joys, the Stage Manager --"
He was interrupted when the murderers from the same production leapt from the flies and stabbed him repeatedly with big rubber knives. The messenged pulled crimson scraves from holes in his tunic and did a lot of unnecessary groaning before his assassins dragged him offstage by the ankles.
"What was that all about?" Nate demanded.
"Early detection system," Bertie said. "I get advance warning that the Stage Manager is coming, and the messenger gets extra stage time."
~ ~ ~Something darkly tempting and longing-filled bloomed under the sun-warmed grass and damp earth. She opened her eyes, wanting to ask a question she didn't yet know, but before she could find the words, Ariel turned away.
~ ~ ~"I think they'll make excellent mummies, as they've already had their brains removed."
~ ~ ~Mrs. Edith had told her once that the costume made the character, but only now did Bertie understand what she'd meant. The corset was dainty, demure, pin-striped, and it wanted her to slap Ariel across the face.
But Bertie was more than the sum of her clothing, so she cocked her arm and punched him as hard as she could in the stomach.
~ ~ ~Gertrude pointed at Macbeth, who was holding up a cruller and muttering, "Is this a doughnut I see before me?" Then he noticed the raspberry jam on everything and started to shriek.
~ ~ ~The Brigands charged in with weapons drawn.
"Who are you?" Young Bertie asked.
"We're the bad guys!" their leader announced.
"What are you going to do?"
"Plunder and pillage!" one of them yelled.
The others immediately shoved him "Not in front of the kid. Ralph! Fer cryin' out loud..."
"Oh, yeah. Sorry! We're here to take your candy!"
Here's by Teaser Tuesday reading from the book.
Visit the Théâtre Illuminata website for some neato stuff, including the first chapter and excerpts from the audio version.