First things first: The fabulous novel that I’m writing about here is intended for young adults. Yep, that’s right—YA. There’s no getting around that fact, or that the girl on the book’s jacket resembles the model on a box of early home hair color (shade: ingenue ash blonde?). But to be put off by either category or cover is to risk missing out on a book that has the potential to add some sunshine and stardust to your very existence.
Starstruck, written by Rachel Shukert, reads like a smarter, more real Valley of the Dolls. Set in Hollywood in the late 1930s, the novel follows three young actresses: Margo, the sheltered blonde who is discovered in Schwab’s drugstore but gets disowned by her conservative parents after she persists in her acting ambitions; Gabby, a brunette vaudeville trouper—complete with stage mom—who’s willing to do whatever it takes to land a lead role in a film and show people she’s no longer a kid; and Diana, a curvy redhead who views a movie contract as a ticket to respectability and a way to leave behind a tawdry past.
Like the women in Dolls, the characters in Starstruck are unabashedly ambitious—a refreshing change from all those fictional heroines who rise and fall according to the men in their lives. While romance is a big part of the plot and each heroine has her own compelling love interest, the main love story here is with Hollywood. Margo, Gabby and Diana are all striving to be part of the studio system, to sign a contract and be tended by a cast of executives, costumers, makeup artists and PR folk who can help them come into their own power and beauty. I know this makes Starstruck‘s protagonists sound passive, almost like, well, dolls, but they’re not. They, like all women in their late teens, could just use a little help.
As with all satisfying novels, the worst part of Starstruck is that it comes to an end. Fortunately, it’s the first book in a series of three (the second will be released next year). There’s also rumored to be some TV and movie interest, and even though Margo, Gabby and Diana are make-believe characters, I find it strangely moving to think that somehow these hopeful, hard-working actresses could finally make it on screen.