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Summary: There was very little in Isobel Ransom's world that she could be sure of. Her father was serving as a military doctor in France, but was he safe? When Sylvie was around, you were never sure what would happen next. The one thing she WAS sure of is that her mother would never approve of her cousin Ranger Bell's idea to make an action picture starring the girls! Isobel wasn't a fan of these new things called movies in general, so being an actress was out of the question! With lots of nudging from Ranger and Sylvie, Izzy agreed to be "Hapless." It wasn't long before Izzy was helping with plot ideas. As for the ending, she and Ranger could never seem to find just the right one. Time was running out for Ranger's big debut ... how was this story going to end? This is an historical fiction novel set in Hollywood in the summer of 1918.
Type of Reading: bedtime story, independent reading, read aloud book
Recommended Age: read together: 12 and Up; read yourself: 13 and Up
Interest Level: 10 to 13
Reading Level: 5.7
Young Reader Reaction: Review pending.
Adult Reader Reaction: It took some time before I could get into this novel. One of the primary reasons I almost walked away from it is Matilda Ransom, Isobel's mother. She is onerous and selfish, and it really bothered me that she used corporal punishment as an outlet for her own issues/feelings. The (possible) dalliance with Charlie Chaplin wasn't necessary to the story; and discussions of a marital affair (even set in 1918) isn't something I want to introduce to my 10-year-old. This seems more young adult than middle grade to me. What kept me reading was learning the history of movie making and Ranger's relationship with Isobel. The cousins developed a genuine friendship, and the sincerity of his efforts to help Isobel later in the novel (no spoilers) is noteworthy. While I liked Sylvie, she is an enigma. Her behavior seems to mirror that of an autistic child, though no medical condition is mentioned. I also scratched my head when she was spending the night with a girl whose family were none-to-pleased about Sylvie's antics in their previous meeting (pouring India ink on the child's head). Why would they agree to host such a high maintenance child?
Pros: Readers interested in character-driven historical fiction will enjoy this early history of life in the early days of Hollywood and the beginning of the moving picture industry.
Cons: There is some violence, as Matilda uses switches to punish her daughters for their transgressions. There is also a series of events where she is being courted by Charlie Chaplin in a way that suggests it is going beyond his interest in having her in a film. [That is the way Isobel sees it.]
Borrow or Buy: Borrow. If you've ever wondered about how films are made - especially the movies before talkies - you're in for a delightful history.
Educational Themes: There are parallel themes that will engage readers. First is the early history of film making and Hollywood. The references to early movies, directors, and stars may excite readers to learn more. Second, are the lives of the characters themselves. Subplots include dealing with absent parents and loss (Isobel, Sam); family dynamics (Ransoms, Bells, Services); and general coming of age issues for the main players.
Notes: The publisher donated an Advance Review Copy (ARC) of this book knowing that we would consider it for review and provide an independent, unbiased profile. This book will be given to a nonprofit to help readers in need.