STARSTRUCK by Rachel Shukert: Review + Q&A

Starstruck by Rachel ShukertStarstruck by Rachel Shukert ( web | tweet )
Book 1 of 3.
Publication Date: March 12, 2013
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers (Random House)
Pages: 352
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: 1930s Hollywood, celebrity, secrets, women’s roles
Format read: eBook from author (Thank you!)

Summary: In the midst of 1930s Hollywood, three teenage girls cross paths — Margaret a.k.a. Margo Sterling, the newest beauty to hit the red carpet, plucked from her well-to-do home in Pasadena to see if she can make her dreams come true; Amanda (sometimes known as Ginger) trying to shred her past life and immerse herself in real romance; and Gabby, never the top-billed actress, never the beautiful one, who struggles with her role in the industry, doing whatever she can to get to the top. In volume 1 of this trilogy, Starstruck boasts  mystery, romance, and the struggle to stay true to who you are.

One minute, Margaret is making her way through a crowd at a Hollywood premiere, trying to see her favorite movie stars. And the next she is having her very own screen test at Olympus Studios. As Margaret, she has a poster of Dane Forrest in her bedroom, and as Margo Sterling, she is acting right beside him.

All the reading Margo does in the gossip rags back home in no way prepares her for what Hollywood is really like. Everyone may look glam and fabulous on the outside, but underneath there is a ton to hide. Author Rachel Shukert has painted such a vivid world in Starstruck, it felt like an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at 1930s Hollywood. The inside deals, the importance of appearances, how everything that looks perfect is primped, primed, and polished until it sparkles and shines (even if it hurts). Shukert peels the curtain back on the romance of this era, revealing intricate and frustrating truths.

But Margo has given up her “home” in Pasadena, her disapproving parents, and even her best friend to see if she can make something of herself in this demanding world. It seems everyone has a double identity, something to hide in Starstruck, including Gabby, an actress destined to always play second fiddle to a big star. Spiraling under the demands of her mother,  a studio, and her own addictions. Then there is Amanda, an ex-“party girl for hire” who hopes to shred her old image in the name of true love.

It’s not every day I can sit here and babble on about how a young adult novel is so literary. But, folks, this one is. From the structure, to the immersive setting filled to the brim with fantastic little details, the dialogue you can hear so perfectly in your head, and this equilibrium of emotion. Nothing feels over-dramatic (unless it has to be), nothing seems unbelievable, and Shukert manages to naturally weave in political proclamations from the support of Hitler to emphasis on women’s roles in society.

Starstuck has challenging word choices, unexpected twist and turns, and a mystery that sneakily creeps along through the lives of these three woman. At times, it felt like fiction disguised in young adult packaging. The tone and even the plotting seem wise beyond its years, even though our main characters are mostly 18 and under. It was so refreshing to have my feet firmly planted in a novel, truly taking my time in it instead of breezing through. This is a book to be experienced.

Along with its complexities, I can also promise swoony romance (I could almost hear the sweeping music in the background), handsome (yet flawed) leading men, dapper fashion choices, and a plenty of red lipstick and champagne. I certainly have to raise my glass to Shukert who has successfully hooked me with this trilogy (when I am not usually one for a series in the first place) and made me want to watch Busby Berkeley musicals back to back.

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For a special bonus today, the hilarious and wonderful Rachel Shukert was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about Starstruck. Some important facts? She is  a huge Muppet fan (like me) and she has been writing some fantastic recaps of SMASH over at New York Magazine (which I have been reading for quite some time, and never made the connection!) Hope you enjoy what she has to say!

Rachel Shukert

The 1930s Hollywood setting is almost like its own character in Starstruck. I felt absolutely and totally immersed. (And a little sad I was not wearing a gorgeous gown while reading.) What do you think is so fascinating about this time period? Did you do a ton of prep work to make it feel authentic?

Rachel: First of all, I’m glad you said that, because thinking up the outfits was basically my favorite thing ever (it starts to get really out of control in the second book, so just wait.) But yes, the Golden Age of Hollywood is an absolutely fascinating time period, and I think the reason it’s so compelling is that it’s so layered. There’s just so much going on. On the most superficial level, it’s incredibly beautiful and aspirational–you have these gorgeous stars, gorgeous clothes, gorgeous locations, and who doesn’t want to be a part of that. But then you scrape the icing off the cake, so to speak, and you see that it’s all so artificial, so controlled. The studios were in charge of every aspects of their stars’ lives, right down to the names they were called. There’s literally not a moment when they aren’t acting, and their main roles aren’t the ones they play in the movies, they’re themselves. And yet, it’s not an artificiality that feels cynical or self-conscious. They’re phonies, but like Truman Capote said about Holly Golightly, they’re real phonies.

And then there’s the other piece, with all this historical context–the Great Depression, the hangover of the Roaring ’20’s, the rise of fascism in Europe, which of course had the result of bringing all these incredible creative minds to this one time and place. I really think 1930’s Hollywood is anomalous that way, just like say, Renaissance Italy was–all these incredible artists who converged on this one place and time in a way that will never be seen again. And of course, that creative impulse bumps up against the commercial one. So for me, it’s got everything–identity, art, history, glamour; it’s just irresistible.

And I always felt that way, so honestly, when I started writing the book, the look and feel of old Hollywood were so ingrained in me that I didn’t have to do tons of special research about the way the studio system worked, or anything like that. What I did do, and what I was obsessed with making feel real, were all the little details. How much did a hamburger cost? How would you make a phone call? What color lipstick would Margo wear? All those things were the things I wound up, like, stopping work for the day to figure out. Because I thought of those things as the architecture in a way, and if I could make that feel real, and stable, you wouldn’t worry if the building would fall down!

Starstruck focuses on the lives of three young ladies: Gabby, Amanda, and Margo. All three of them have vastly different backgrounds but end up crossing paths in this industry. I absolutely love how distinct each of their personalities are and how each of them have so much at stake. Did you always plan to have the book focus on these 3 or did that decision evolve over time? Who was your favorite to write?

Rachel: Originally I planned to write three books, with each one told exclusively through the point of view of each character. So there is a whole draft that’s just Margo! But then I honestly just couldn’t wait to get into all of their thoughts and feelings and lives, and I didn’t want to like, give Margo up just because it was Gabby’s turn, you know? I wanted to get into all of their heads and let us get to know them all. Because I think the contrast of their lives and the way they intersect is such a huge part of the book.

I loved writing them all, honestly. Margo, I think is the most like me. She reacts to situations much the same way I would tend to, and she’s kind of an observer, even when things are happening to her. She holds herself at a little bit of a distance, and that’s something I really understand, especially her struggle to stop doing that! I love writing Amanda too, because I just find her backstory so fascinating, and she’s such a badass, but doesn’t know it, you know? And Gabby is also very fun, although a little more of a challenge, because her character, this kind of world-weary stage brat, is such a stock one, so it’s important to figure out ways to make her more than that, to find the places where we see her humanity come through, and where her ambition comes from. But I love her. I love them all.

Let’s talk about swoon. Dane. Jimmy too. Who do you think could play these fine specimens if Starstruck was turned into a film?

Rachel: Ooh, this is my favorite question! For Dane, I think someone like Ryan Gosling–just so so hot, and very soulful, but like, you can never quite get a handle on him, you know? He’s got to be old enough and mysterious enough to have a little bit of a past, but still super charming. And Jimmy, I think maybe Darren Criss. Maybe it has to do with the character he plays on Glee, but I think he’d be perfect. Who do you think??

The exciting news is that Starstruck is book 1 in a trilogy. What kind of mayhem and fancy moments can we expect in your next book?

Rachel: It is exciting news!! I’m so excited about Book #2, and it’s so hard to answer this question without giving too much away! I’ll say this–Amanda has some pretty exciting developments, sad, but also pretty amazing. Margo is figuring out how you deal with getting everything you ever wanted, and finding out maybe it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and seeing what that costs you. There’s a new, grown-up love interest for Gabby, who I am very excited about, and also, we open the setting up to New York City, which is going to be amazing. But that’s all I can tell you!

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Big thanks to Rachel for hanging out at Rather Be Reading Blog today!

…now what are you waiting for — read STARSTRUCK! (We only have about 9 months until book two comes out!)