Bethany Rabinowitz has talent and wants to act in Hollywood. Her mother Ruth is more than committed to making that dream a reality, packing Bethany up and moving away from their home in Seattle in hopes that Bethany will be the one in a million who makes it as a child star. Leaving behind her slightly skeptical dentist husband, Ruth chases the impossible, spending money right and left, driving Bethany from agent to acting coach to audition and back again. How much will be enough before the Rabinowitzes burn out or Bethany books a big enough part is the looming question in this novel of dreams and desperation.
Bethany is lucky though because, despite her mother's sometimes restrictive rules, Ruth cares enough to try and carefully shepherd Bethany through the process while several other of the young characters have been abandoned in their talent manager's lax care. While Bethany's life is ostensibly the center point of the novel, the other child actor wanna-be's backgrounds are also filled in, providing a counterpoint to Bethany's very average, somewhat stereotypical, love-filled upbringing. As the kids learn their parts and do the rounds, it becomes more and more clear that what drives the Hollywood business of children's acting is money. Launching a child into the firmament of Tinseltown depends on so much more than a child's talent.
Hammond has drawn a novel that questions the process, highlights the insatiable beast, and makes the idea of turning a child into a star vaguely distasteful. First impressions, superficial and often mistaken, make or break these characters. The reader feels nothing but sympathy for the children abandoned by their parents into this morass and wonders why a loving, involved parent would insist on persevering for something so likely to end in failure and an empty bank account rather than glory and a dream achieved (although that begs the question of whose dream--mother or daughter?).
Both Ruth and Bethany learn the value of real friendship and the ephemerality of childhood and time during the course of the novel. The cast of characters here is a bit too extensive, making certain of the children mere props for the plot and taking away from the principle characters. Despite this top-heaviness, the story itself is quite interesting, what with its revelations about the inner workings of auditions and the Hollywood machine. The novel is completely outside my realm of experience and I felt certain I would not have pursued things to the extent that Ruth did, but she was still a sympathetic character and one who was achingly realistic. Anyone who has ever gone to great lengths for their child or who has had their heart rate pick up just the slightest bit when a modeling agency or casting call advertisement comes on the radio will appreciate this cautionary tale.
For more, be sure to visit Diane Hammond's website. There's information on all four of her books (Hannah's Dream, Homesick Creek, Going to Bend, and this one), tour info, and even reading group guides (not one for Seeing Stars yet though).
Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours for sending me a review copy of this book.