Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Roll Video: Reel Life Starring Us by Lisa Greenwald

I'm standing in the second-floor bathroom shaking crunched-up potato chips from the bottom of my backpack.

This whole starting-a-new-school thing would be easier if I had a removable tattoo on my forehead or something, just so people would know I was cool in my old school. Really, I was.  Everyone was artsy in his or her own way. And it wasn't cliquey. I was cool. People liked me.

"Chipped already?" the girl at the sink asks me. "On your first day?"

"So, it's, like, a thing?" I asked. "I don't get it."

"You were chipped," she said. "Someone saw you and decided that you were a good target."

It was the job opportunity of a lifetime for both of Dina Gross's parents to move from their home in the Berkshires to Long Island. For Dina it's like moving to a new planet. Rockwood Hills Middle School is big, and the kids are cliquish. There are the custom-jeans-wearing queens and kings of the popular crowd, led by the biggest queen bee of all, Chelsea Stern, and her followers Kendall and Molly.  Then there's everyone else.  And  there's that strange custom of being "chipped," a stealthy and seemingly random "thing" that seems to happen to anyone who seems slightly different.

But Dina and Chelsea have one thing in common--both are entering a month late--Dina, because of the move and Chelsea because she's been out with mono. Their social studies class is already divided into groups working on major projects to be presented at the school's fiftieth anniversary celebration, and Mr. Valakis makes them a group of two and pointedly warns them to get busy catching up.

Dina sees a way to use her favorite hobby--video filmmaking--and she already has the skills and lingo from her old school's film class. Chelsea thinks going around sticking a camera in people's faces is embarrassingly lame, but she has her own problems, a secret she can't share with her even her best friends. Her dad has lost his high-paying job, and she's struggling to hide her limited budget from her shopping-crazed BFFs, and Chelsea knows that she's close to dropping into the masses of non-popular, frequently chipped kids at school. Reluctantly, she decides she has no choice but to go along with Dina's adventurous plan to include Sasha Preston, teen TV star and the best-known alum of Rockwood Hills Middle in their film, a daring plan in which the two would-be filmmakers find themselves pretending to be extras on location for Sasha's show in New York while Dina tries to talk their way into a video interview with the star.

Both girls discover that things are not always what they seem in the process of filming their classmates. Sasha Preston's powerful remembrances of the superficialities of her old middle school help them to see their social scene in a different way. As Dina tells Chelsea after their video's premier,

"You're going to say I'm a video nerd for saying this, but I'm going to say it anyway," Dina starts.

"Sometimes in order to really see things, you just have to look through a different lens."

"I don't think you're a video nerd," I say.

"I think you're right."

And I really, really mean that.

Both Chelsea and Dina see themselves and their classmates through a different lens in Lisa Greenwald's Reel Life Starring Us (Amulet Books/Abrams), a  young adult novel that takes a closeup shot of middle-school society through the alternating narratives of its two main characters. "This funny, nuanced tale offers keen observations on middle-school life," says Kirkus Reviews.

Greenwald's other popular 'tween books include My Life in Pink & Green, My Summer of Pink & Green, and Sweet Treats & Secret Crushes.

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