"Seeing Stars" by Diane Hammond

This is a book about a bunch of teens and their parents who go or send them to Hollywood in search of fame. The final message of the book is: "Children need parents who love and care about them and who are involved in their every day lives more than they need fame and celebrity." I liked that message because it's very true.

There were some parts of this book that were really hard for me to believe. For example, how horrible and neglectful some of the parents were. They just carted their kids out to Hollywood and paid strangers to house them, seeing them only briefly at holidays. Two of the protagonists, Quinn and Allison, were essentially orphans.

Here's what I disliked about the book:
  • Hammond used an overabundance of the f word, especially while narrating Quinn's thoughts. I suppose it made the story more real, but was it necessary?
  • There was too much vulgarity, swearing, and especially taking the Lord's name in vain for my taste. I would not feel comfortable recommending this book to a church book group.
  • I didn't think Angie and Laurel added very much to the book at all. Their story was totally separate from the others'. Their characters seemed very flat. Not to mention, if she really loved her husband as much as she professed to, why would she leave him during the last few months she had to live, to try to pursue her daughter's fame? That did not make much sense to me.
  • There is one extremely graphic/violent rape scene that I walked right into, and while it was pretty short, I read more of it than I would have cared to. Reading that kind of stuff is totally damaging to the soul, in my opinion. I suppose it was a necessary plot point, and I ended up skipping the worst parts easily because it didn't go on and on for pages (I think it ended up being about 2 pages long), but I wonder: could Hammond have pulled off the same scene in a more tasteful way? BTW, I don't profess to know how to do that.

Here's what I really enjoyed about the book:
  • As I grew to know the characters, their stories became like mysteries. Which one of them is going to "make it big"? Who is the next star going to be? Which one is going to go home? I honestly couldn't tell until the very end.
  • The overall message is very good. Parents are more important to teens than fame. That was made clear by the attitudes of all of the characters, even the ones who end up "making it".
  • It seemed like Hammond really researched this subject. There were so many interesting details that me, a layperson, had no clue about. Like, for example, have you ever really thought about how many takes they do while filming fried chicken commercials? Enough to have buckets by the actors' feet so they can spit out the chicken. Isn't that a nasty thought? So, basically one reason that this book was so successful was because the setting brought up some really interesting ideas that I had never thought of before, which force the reader to ask hard questions: "Should teenagers really be career actors?" "Who are these people I see in the commercials, really?" Hammond also pointed out things that I am sure happen, like producers putting their own family photos on the fridge in commercials, or hiring a person just to keep track of where props are exactly on set so that one take isn't missing a lamp, or the clock hands are in the same place.
  • Hammond did an excellent job portraying believable young preteens and teens. Their behavior was just the right combination of bratty and innocent.
  • Each character had flaws, but they were also mostly likable. Some were more likable than others, but that's true to life!
  • The real antagonist of the book was not just one person, but rather the force that drives people so hard after fame that they end up neglecting their children. That, combined with general ambivalence towards parental responsibilities.
  • She did a great job narrating. She showed the characters by subtly changing the narrator's voice when various characters were in the spotlight, even though it was third person. I really enjoyed her writing style.
  • On more than one occasion she referenced some random trivial thing that I had learned (probably mostly from NPR) and thought about, but had never heard anybody else talk about before. It's hard to come up with an example, but I remember thinking, "Hey! She actually has heard that, too?" on more than one occasion.
  • Hammond doesn't glorify celebrities for their celebrity status. She recognizes talent, and that acting takes work and skill. She did a great job describing the process of acting. But she didn't take part in the swoon fest that the rest of the world seems to automatically get when watching television and seeing someone whose name they know.
  • Each character had a happy yet bittersweet resolution. I like that.
  • The final line in the book was great.

So, all in all, I would recommend this book to my siblings, but probably not my parents or church book club.

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