Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Kate Wetherhead's
Jack and Louisa: Act 1
Book review by Heather Job
Ages 8 - 12
Jack has grown up on Broadway stages as a successful child actor. 450 miles away, in the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights, Ohio, Louisa is a self-proclaimed "Musical Theatre Nerd," or MTN, living for summers at Camp Curtain Up and productions with the Shaker Heights Community Players.
When Jack's voice changes and he loses his role as star of an original Broadway cast, he has to adjust to a new life away from the Great White Way.
Jack and Louisa turn out to live on the same street in Shaker Heights, but their friendship gets off to a rocky start. Louisa is desperate to befriend a fellow MTN, but Jack wants to leave theatre back in New York, hoping to avoid bullying and hurt feelings from being fired from his own show.
When the two principals' favorite show, Into the Woods, makes it into the Community Players' season, everything changes.
Louisa and Jack both land roles in the show and become best friends through rehearsals. But when Jack has the opportunity to return to New York as a standby for the show he was forced to leave, a wrench is thrown in their friendship...
Will Jack leave behind his theatre family in Shaker Heights to sit backstage on Broadway? Is he too good for community theatre?
Can two actors with so much in common and yet such different backgrounds remain friends through it all?
Jack and Louisa is the first in a series by Broadway veterans Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Kate Wetherhead. It's fun, fast-paced, and almost demands to be read in one sitting.
Review continues below.
The reader knows from the get-go that Louisa and Jack are kindred spirits, but to watch their friendship unfold is a treat.
They have a fantastic dynamic, one that reads with honesty and energy. And when Jack is faced with the decision to quit Into the Woods just a few weeks out from opening night or to lose out on the opportunity to star in the original cast of a Broadway musical, the reader is just as torn as Jack is.
Often, when characters are faced with tough decisions, the audience has an idea of what the decision will be - whether it be because it makes the most logical sense, or seems more in character, or moves the plot along the best, there aren't a ton of situations in which the audience genuinely has no clue.
I had that rare experience with Jack and Louisa: I was stumped. I didn't know what Jack would pick - and I didn't know what I wanted him to pick, either.
The best thing about Jack and Louisa is its potential. Already planned as a series, it will be exciting to see what direction the books will take.
There is a somewhat autobiographical slant to the novel (author Keenan-Bolger was in the Broadway casts of Beauty and the Beast and Seussical as a kid; Wetherhead grew up attending theatre camps in Vermont), so it will be interesting to see how closely later volumes follow the author duo's own experiences.
At the book launch party, Keenan-Bolger briefly discussed the insecurity young male MTNs experience, feeling like their masculinity is being called into question. I'm hopeful that this theme will be explored in more depth in later "acts."
Jack and Louisa will be a great series for any MTNs in your life, and especially good for boys - with the inclusion of a male protagonist and narrator, it will appeal more to that dynamic than Louisa alone would have, and Lord knows young theatre boys could use some affirmation. Prepare for some laughs, a one-sitting read, and most exciting of all, a standing ovation.
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