Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Catch A Falling Star by Kim Culbertson

Catch A Falling Star makes use of a popular trope in young adult literature these days - a down-to-earth, small town girl has an unlikely meeting with a famous teen acting star whom she expects will be insensitive and self-absorbed. Instead, she learns he's just the opposite and they fall in love in what proves to be an impossible to sustain relationship since he will eventually leave town.

Carter Moon's family owns a small cafe, Little Eats, on the main street in Little, California where Carter lives with her mom, dad and her nineteen year old brother John. John is a compulsive gambler who has spent the last three years in and out of support programs without much success.  He is estranged from their parents after stealing from the cafe safe. His gambling has resulted in him becoming indebted to a local small time gangster named T.J. Shay.

Carter likes to hang out with her best friend, Chloe and her boyfriend, Drake Masuda, who goes by the name of Alien Drake due to his interest in aliens and UFO sightings. Alien Drake and Carter go way back as childhood friends who both have an interest in stargazing and astronomy. Drake and Carter also co-author a blog titled Yesterday's Sightings.
One afternoon while clearing tables with Chloe, Carter sees Adam Jakes, famous teen actor, entering town where his next movie shoot is to take place. Jakes is in town to film a Christmas movie, A Christmas Cheryl which is to be a modern remake of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Jakes has a bad boy reputation stemming from a recent scandal. involving drugs, a car wreck and a very public break-up with a famous actress, that sent him into rehab.

Things turn strange when Adam Jake's manager, Parker Hill, approaches Carter to be Adam's girlfriend for the weeks he is shooting his movie in Little. Parker wants Adam to spend "some time with a 'small town girl with proper values'", someone who can help repair Adam's tattered image. Parker seems to know a lot about Carter and her family, including the trouble they have had with John, so when she refuses, he lets her know that this offer is for real and will pay handsomely.

Carter decides to take Parker up on his offer and become Adam Jake's fake girlfriend for the several weeks he is shooting in Little. Parker has scripted their entire "relationship" meaning that he has planned when they will have their first public kiss and when and where they will be seen and photographed together as well as when they will break up.

Carter assumes she will be dealing with an entitled, self-absorbed star and at first that seems to be exactly what Adam is- full of himself.  Adam seems more interested in his iPhone but he is impressed when Carter doesn't seem overwhelmed during their first meeting. As they follow the script Parker has laid out for them, Carter attends shoots and gets a taste of the constant publicity that marks Adam's life. Adam begins to thaw towards her, revealing glimpses of the person he really is and even asking her to hang out with him as a friend. Carter in turn lets Adam into her world; Alien Drake and Chloe invite him to come up to the roof and star gaze with them. She opens up to Adam about the problems with her brother John. But soon the pretend relationship that she has crafted with Adam comes crashing up against the reality of what her heart feels; she has fallen hard for Adam Jakes.

As the days pass and Carter is drawn into the job of being Adam's pretend girlfriend, she comes to realize that the photos taken during their time together present a completely false picture to the public - one that suggests she and Adam have a meaningful relationship. This begins to bother Carter and she confronts Adam about this. He tells her that the tabloids do not tell the real story and that much of it is crafted to entertain people. This is what his life is all about - entertainment. But sometimes what you don't feel when you fake it, eventually becomes real. And this is what Carter is beginning to experience.

However, when Parker inadvertently reveals a secret about Adam, Carter decides she's had enough pretending and quits the job of being Adam's fake girlfriend. She wants to acknowledge her feelings, tell her best friends that she has lied to them, and end the fake relationship. In the end neither is certain they understand the other, but they come to an acceptance that this is the reality of their lives.

Culbertson's novel is a fun, contemporary romance that touches on several themes. First is the irony of Adam and Carter's situation. They are creating a fake relationship for public consumption so that Adam's good-boy image will be repaired. However, in reality, their relationship gradually becomes closer to what they are presenting to the public, as both develop real feelings for the other person. Each believes the other doesn't really care but in reality they both really do. Adam proves his care for Carter when trouble surfaces concerning John and a serious threat to his life and Carter's family. His intervention saves them from a lot of trouble.

Secondly, instead of turning this novel into a completely frothy, fluff piece, Culbertson tackles a host of issues concerning coming of age and making decisions in life. It turns out that besides dealing with her growing affection for Adam, Carter is also deeply conflicted over her decision to stop dancing. She was a dancer good enough to secure a scholarship to a school in New York but turned it down when she attended a camp connected with the school. Discouraged by what she was told at the camp, Carter felt that dance was no longer fun and that she did not want to be a part of the ruthlessly competitive world that characterizes professional dance. All Carter wants is to remain in Little and she doesn't understand why she should consider leaving her small town. She is satisfied with small town life, yet everyone tells her that she needs to go out and experience more of the world.

Adam with his much larger experience of the world, makes a case for trying new things and pushing outside of our comfort zone. He tells her that sometimes whatever you are doing in life, whether it's dancing or acting, is not fun, that hard work, disappointment and struggle are part of the equation. He also tells her not to limit herself to one thing in life, and to stop thinking of all or nothing. She can use Little as her anchor while she goes out and explores the world beyond.

Adam is not the only one who helps Carter. Alien Drake who is disappointed in Carter for dating a movie star, reaches out to her through their blog. His posts which appear sporadically through the novel are the best part of this book.

The weakest area of this novel was Culbertson's portrayal of Adam as a top Hollywood star. Adam was unconvincing in this role and the idea behind the movie he was making, although supposedly a mirror of the issues in his own contrived life,  seemed contrived.

Readers will love the happy twist at the end of the novel. A good summer read for those who like this sort of motif. Fans of Jennifer E. Smith's This Is What Happy Looks Like will definitely enjoy Culbertson's similarly themed Catch A Falling Star.

Book Details:
Catch a Falling Star by Kim Culberston
New York: Point and imprint of Scholastic, Inc.    2014
300 pp.

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