Reality Ends Here
by Alison Gaylin
Published by Pocket Star
Genre: young adult lit
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
4 / 5
What hell hath reality television wrought?
Seriously. That is not a rhetorical question.
Do you ever ask yourself what the world would be like without Kardashians and that Honey Boo Boo person? Without dance moms and wife swapping? It might be kind of nice, right?
The thing about the oxymoron that is reality television is that the more we learn about it, the less real it becomes. That certainly is the case here, as Estella Blanchard knows only too well. She is the older sister of sextuplets, and given that multiples make for interested television audiences, Estella's mother and stepfather gladly parade their family in front of the cameras. Estella gamely goes along, knowing that the fame and money are important to her mother. She's that kind of kid.
When Christmas rolls around, Estella's carefully crafted life on camera begins to unravel. She receives a gift from her father. While this would be celebrated under normal circumstances, these are anything but normal. Estella's father died years earlier, so he can't possibly have sent this gift - which is the very thing he had with him the night he died.
Estella's mother and stepfather are convinced that she planted the gift, surmising that Estella is jealous of the attention her siblings receive. We know better, however, and we are as anxious as Estella to solve the mystery. Her parents ship her off to group therapy populated by struggling child stars. She meets Jake, a boy band member, and the two hit it off. Estella likes him and is disheartened, to say the least, to discover that he's dating a bitchy blonde star who also happens to be in the support group.Estella doesn't understand what Jake sees in his girlfriend, a confusion that only increases when the girlfriend sets up Estella to get hounded by the paparazzi.
Threaded throughout is the mystery: who sent Estella that gift? Could it be that her father is still alive?
This is one of those books where parts of it are sooo good, and parts are somewhat disappointing. Estella is a solid character. She adores her younger siblings, but not so much that she can't see their flaws, and she is loyal to her mother, even if she is desperate to spend time with the "real" woman and not the one parading on television. Estella is not a publicity hound, she is uncomfortable on camera, and she yearns for a truly real life. You can't help but like her.
She's a typical teenager in that she does contradict herself. She professes to abhor people who are interested in her for her popularity, yet what turns her off most about Jake is not his devotion to the bitchy girlfriend, but rather the whole boy band thing. She also occasionally slips and lets us see that she, too, is concerned with appearances. She judges people based on their looks, whether she'll admit to it or not. Perhaps this is Alison Gaylin's understated commentary on celebrity culture, or perhaps its to show that we are all drawn to looks no matter how we may protest to the contrary. Who knows.
Aside from Estella, though, most of the characters are under developed. The lone exception is Dylan, another member of the support group. Intended to provide a sort of comic relief, he also turns out to be more multifaceted than the rest of his fellow friends.
The book's detail about the production process is interesting and likely to make you think twice the next time you want to believe that reality television really is reality. The mystery is intriguing and you want to know the story behind the gift. As a sum of its parts, this is an above average novel that could have been stronger. A weak supporting cast hurts it, and for a book about a television show, that is a mistake indeed.