Many people come to Hollywood seeking fame and wealth — and it’s not too different for mother-daughter team Ruth and Bethany Rabinowitz. Leaving their comfortable lives in Seattle behind — along with Bethany’s sensible dentist father, who waits for their return — the women move to Los Angeles and immediately begin the scary, demanding process of making 13-year-old Bethany a star.
To even have the possibility of making it in Tinseltown, we learn, every wannabe celebrity must enlist the services of a talented team — and that means hooking up with Mimi Roberts, a cutthroat talent manager who “makes pronouncements” to all of her clients: “Don’t mumble. Own the room. Never be late for an audition.” With Mimi on their side and a tidy new name plastered over her own, Bethany Rabinowitz becomes Bethany Ann Roosevelt and starts to act her little heart out.
As more and more auditions line up, some more disappointing than those before, the Rabinowitzes must weigh the cost of their dreams against the pain, sweat and tears needed to keep moving forward — maybe before it becomes too late to turn back.
More than anything, Diane Hammond’s Seeing Stars seems to be a cautionary tale for aspiring Hollywood types — and in that vein, it functions very well as a work of contemporary fiction. With plenty of nods to certain Disney stars and topical references to films like “High School Musical,” which seems to be the dream gig of every working teen in L.A., Hammond’s book draws the reader into a sordid, often sad world of backstage lots, incredibly long hours, droll parents and sacrifice rarely displayed to those of us who simply enjoy the end results: glamorous movies and well-packaged TV shows.
Though Bethany and Ruth are the “stars” of the book, plenty of peripheral characters fill in the landscape — most notably Allison Addison, a spoiled but talented teen who lives full-time with Mimi Roberts, the girls’ manager, and is one of the kids collectively known as “the Orphans.” Dumped by their parents and from all reaches of the U.S., the Orphans board with Mimi while she sends them out on countless auditions and passes them off to unsuspecting stage mothers like Ruth. It’s impossible not to feel for these kids, shuttled around in an endless waiting game and lacking any real parental guidance, but it was really frustrating, too.
In fact, frustrating is the way I would describe much of the book — and not because the writing wasn’t solid. It definitely was. Hammond does a great job of introducing us to a very motley crew of folks who don’t seem to have much in common other than their shared dreams of success, and sometimes that’s enough to bind them . . . but sometimes it’s not. And watching everyone desperately chasing something that often seems so elusive actually made my stomach hurt. I wondered, too, about everyone’s motivations — especially Ruth’s. Why put themselves through this? Who were they benefiting and who were they hurting? Can the kids even get a decent education while working like this? And since many of these motivations seemed anything but altruistic, that bothered me, too.
Readers interested in the fame game will find plenty of “behind the scenes” information in Hammond’s novel, dropping us everywhere from auditions to sets to popular Hollywood landscapes — and everywhere in between. The jargon was flying from the get-go and, as someone interested in the movie biz, I found it pretty interesting. Seeing Stars also examines close family relationships and motherhood, too, and has some poignant scenes, though the sheer length of the novel dragged it down for me. Pick it up if you’re interested in the making (and breaking?) of a star, but skip it if character-driven drama isn’t for you.
3.5 out of 5!
Review copy provided by TLC Book Tours