Published August 15th 2017 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Format read: Finished copy, via publisher
This is the story of Olive - who loves to sing, but finds herself gripped by stage fright, especially with her ghastly, overbearing mother breathing down her neck with expectations. When she flunks a big audition for the school show, Olive wanders among the glittering, enticing theaters and comes upon Maudeville, a fascinating old theater with so many secrets, run by the grand-dame of show business, Maude Devore. Offered the opportunity of a lifetime, Olive is gradually sucked into a story of darkness and fear, where the bright lights of Maudeville conceal a shifting world of ghosts . . . .
In Olive and the Backstage Ghost, Michelle Schusterman introduces us to Olive, a young girl who loves to perform, but suffers from a domineering stage mother, and memories of a now-deceased father. A mishaps at an audition sends her into Maudeville, a theater dominated by ghosts and things that are out of this world...
One of the first things that struck me about Olive... was Schusterman's willingness to delve deep into child abuse. Olive is clearly being abused; her mother demands perfection from her performance, with the implication that if Olive takes off, it will help solve the family's financial problems. When Olive doesn't perform according to expectations, her mother essentially punishes her, by not letting her leave the apartment.
While this pressure experienced by Olive is obviously hard to read, Schusterman's willingness to explore it, will give many a reader who may be struggling with similar issues, an outlet to understand that what they're experiencing is not okay, and needs to be addressed.
After Olive stumbles into Maudeville, Schusterman transitions into aexploring what it means to be enticed by something that is too good to be true. Maudeville is eerie and enticing, and Olive's entire journey seems to be predicated around the idea that hard work will get you places, but there's a fine line on what you can and cannot do to achieve success. It's a complex lesson, but Schusterman frames it will in the context of the theater.
Of note: My two quibbles with this books, are:
1. Olive's relationship with her mother is tied up too neatly. They're reunited at the end, but there's no real resolution to the obvious abuse Olive has experienced at her hands. I'm a little concerned that readers in bad situations might see this as a sign that they can just leave a bad situation, come back and everything will be fine, but I may also be overthinking it.
2. There's a section where it's implied Olive's dead committed suicide. While it can be taken as a sign of the general chaos/destruction/evil of Maudeville, it might come off as abrupt and shocking to younger readers.
Just know this going on, and I think it will help with the reading experience.
All in all, this is a short, zippy MG, packed with a lot of serious life lessons that will be appreciated by young readers. Highly recommend.
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