Saturday, September 18, 2010

Review: Three Girls and their Brother

Three Girls and Their Brother by Theresa Rebeck
4 stars

Reasons for reading: recommended by a colleague, Alex Award winner for Book Awards Challenge

Description: "They may be the granddaughters of a famous literary critic, but what really starts it all is Daria, Polly, and Amelia Heller’s stunning red hair. Out of the blue one day, The New Yorker calls and says that they want to feature the girls in a glamorous spread shot by a world-famous photographer, and before long these three beautiful nobodies from Brooklyn have been proclaimed the new “It” girls.

But with no parental guidance–Mom’s a former beauty queen living vicariously through her daughters, and Dad is nowhere to be found–the three girls find themselves easy prey for the sharks and piranhas of show business. Posing in every hot fashion magazine, tangling with snarling fashonistas and soulless agents, skipping school and hitting A-list parties, the sisters are caught up in a whirlwind rise to fame that quickly spirals out of control.

When Amelia, the youngest of the three–who never really wanted to be a model in the first place–appears in an Off-Broadway play, the balance of power shifts, all the pent-up resentment and pressure comes to a head, and the girls’ quiet, neglected brother reaches a critical point of virtual breakdown. And against the odds, even as the struggle for fame threatens to tear the family apart, the Hellers begin to see that despite the jealousy, greed, and uncertainty that have come to define their relationships, in the celebrity world of viciousness and betrayal, all they really have is one another."

First line: "Now that it's all over, everybody is saying it was the picture, that stupid picture was behind every disaster that would eventually befall my redheaded sisters."

My thoughts: This was a fun read. I can really see why it won the Alex Award (for adult books that are appealing to teens) - it's actually not far from a YA novel, just a bit longer. The characters are teens and it's fast-paced with lots of glamour and glitz. But at its heart, it has the relationships of the four siblings. These seem fragile, non-existent, hate-filled, and just confused at times, but in the end, the Heller children really do only have each other. As with lots of actual YA novels, the adults in this book are horrifyingly neglectful and damaging! Their father buggered off and started a new family, their mother is a drunk, faded beauty queen who wants to live out her dreams through her daughters no matter what harm it does them, and the agent looking out for their interests is a piranha/parasite who will stay with them only as long as they make her money. Another awful but entertaining adult is the cutthroat, very scary Hollywood mover and shaker woman who is enormous, wears caftans, and claims to be Kafka's great-granddaughter. The way everyone treats Phillip is appalling - that he survives, hangs on to his sanity, and still manages to love his sisters is amazing. At the photo shoot Phillip describes dancing with his sisters as a lot of fun and basically the last moment they'll have like that for a while and it's really lovely.

Each sibling gets a chance to narrate, which could have been annoying but wasn't, it added to the story. Amelia really sounds 14, Phillip sounds like a confused teen boy who wants things to be okay and to do the right thing (and who is actually really smart), sexy party girl Polly tries hard takes charge when the chips are down and Daria is coolly imperious but very capable (though she is taken down a much-needed peg or two). The appearances of odd hairdresser Laura add considerably to things - Phillip has a crush on her and she turns out to be very resourceful, even if her ability to filter her thoughts as they come out of her mouth is nonexistent.

It's not Kafka, but this book is entertaining, heartbreaking, funny, and satisfying with a close look at the manipulating and just badness behind Hollywood and also at sibling relationships.

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