Tag Archives: YA lit

Review: You Look Different In Real Life

27 Dec

Yep, once again the oh-so-teen Pretty White Girl cover had me entering this book with low expectations. In cases like this, I love it when I’m wrong. Jennifer Castle’s You Look Different In Real Life¬†ended up being a story of five very real teenagers who are discovering who they are and how documentaries about them have affected how they think of themselves. This review contains spoilers.

urlJustine and four of her classmates were featured in a documentary when they were kindergartners called Five at Six, then again in Five at Eleven. Now, five years later, the five are sixteen and the two ambitious filmmakers are back to make the third installment. However, a lot has changed in five years. Justine, who had always charmed audiences, feels like a disappointment and a nobody. She and her former friend Rory are no longer talking. Nate has transformed himself into a cool kid who no longer hangs out with Felix, and Kiera seems to be aloof from them all.

This does not bode well for the film. The five students who used to be so transparent and genuine are now hesitant to share their lives with the filmmakers. Interviews and footage reach dead ends, and the filmmakers are coerced by their producers to

The turning point in the book is really where the story and the characters begin to shine. When Kiera takes off to find her missing mom, the other four go off after her by themselves, and Justine takes the camera with them. It’s only here, on their trip to New York City in a borrowed van with an emergency credit card and a video camera, that friendships start to be repaired and secrets are revealed. Justine begins to repair her friendship with Rory. Felix reveals that he’s gay and that’s why he and Nate have become frosty toward each other. The four witness Kiera reunite with her mom. It’s a powerful choice that Castle makes, having things only come together when Justine and the other four take the film and their lives into their own hands.

This book has a lot of fantastic things going for it: A realistic portrayal of autism through Rory, who is also a great character in general and is far more than “That Autistic Character”, believable and compelling character growth and development, and interesting commentary on the added difficulty of defining yourself when you are conscious of what others think of you.

The concept of teens being followed by a documentary crew is especially relevant in this age, in which teens watch reality shows with dubious amounts of actual reality in them, create YouTube videos and blogs in the hopes of internet fame, and can have the minutia of their day available to all on Facebook and Twitter. How much do we allow others’ opinions or expectations of us define who we are, and how can we use the media tools available to us (as Justine takes the video camera) to create real communications that repair and reconcile?

You Look Different In Real Life is a very satisfying read–I would definitely recommend it for teens and lovers of realistic fiction.