books and reading · reviews

Book Review: You Look Different in Real Life by Jennifer Castle

When the documentary series started, Justine was young enough to not recognize how it would impact her life.  Five kids living their lives, with a film crew checking in on them every five years.  It was fine when they were in kindergarten, but now that they’re sixteen?  Things are different, and the close-knit group is no longer all that close–or even speaking to each other.  So when the camera crew shows up and expects a story, Justine and the other teens struggle to give them what they want.  But this reunion just might be the thing they didn’t know they needed.

Jennifer Castle’s latest offering is clearly a play on the documentary series Up, which follows a group of British kids around, starting in 1964 when they are seven years old.  It’s a fascinating series (and is still going on!), and this book modernizes it somewhat by placing the teens in today’s world.  There’s a lot of good stuff explored in this thoughtful novel, but it also tries to cram too much into its pages, making it feel a little bloated.

The individual stories of the five teens in the novel are revealed slowly, allowing the reader to get to know each of them quite intimately, despite the fact that Justine remains the narrator throughout.  All five teens are well-rounded, interesting, and fairly authentic.  However, the story is unnecessarily complicated by a cast that is too large.  There’s too much to keep track of, and as a result, some of the stories suffer.  Different plot points are dropped too quickly, and others get lost in the rest of the book.

There’s also the issue of the story lagging–and I mean really lagging–in the middle.  Castle is a good writer, and her strengths lie in her character development–but a good chunk of the middle would have benefited from some strong editing.  A tighter middle would have made for better pacing overall, as the book’s pacing is uneven at best.  Still, a satisfying ending and strong characters keep this one interesting enough.  The individual scenes between characters are strong and compelling enough to keep most readers interested in what’s going on.

Not as outstanding as this reader was hoping, but still pretty good.  Definitely an interesting premise with strong character development.  Might work well for teens looking for a reality-TV-ish fix with some substance to it.

You Look Different in Real Life by Jennifer Castle. HarperTeen: 2013.  Digital copy accepted for review via Edelweiss.

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