You might know writer Rachel Shukert from her autobiographical essay collection, Have You No Shame?:And Other Regrettable Stories. Or you might know her from her memoir, Everything Is Going to Be Great: An Underfunded and Overexposed European Grand Tour. Or you could also know her from her hilarious Smash recaps on Vulture. As of March 12th, you can also know her as a YA author. I had the pleasure of reading an advance copy of Starstruck and I completely fell in love with it. If you’re a fan of old Hollywood, glamour, drama or just good writing, chances are you’ll love it, too.
Starstruck follows 3 girls trying to make it in Hollywood in the late 1930s. Margaret Frobisher is just a regular girl in Pasadena until she’s discovered by an agent, turned into Margo, and thrust into the Hollywood life. Gabby Preston is desperate to be a star, and she’ll do anything (and take any pills) necessary to make it happen. Amanda Farraday is a sexy and glamorous actress who’s running from her dicey past. As all three girls attempt to catch their big breaks, Hollywood is consumed with the mystery surrounding its biggest star, Diana Chesterfield. Where is she? And does Margo’s leading man (and huge crush) Dane Forrest know more than he’s letting on?
In a lot of ways, Starstruck reminded me of Valley of the Dolls, but without a scene where Neely O’Hara strolls down the street while saying, “Boobies, boobies, boobies! Nothin’ but boobies!” (that’s actually a line from the film version of Valley of the Dolls, but whatever. It’s still my favorite scene from anything ever and I can’t pass up an opportunity to mention it).
Starstruck is an insanely compelling read, and not just because it’s fun and exciting and glamorous (although it is all of those things). I’m not a huge old Hollywood buff, but Rachel Shukert includes so many details about the culture and time period that it’s impossible not to get sucked in. Not only are there mentions of real-life films, actresses and directors, but there are historical details, too. For example, you can tell who the real jerks in the book are because they don’t think that Hitler guy sounds so bad.
We can only hope Starstruck is the next YA series to be made into a movie, because if there’s one thing all the current vampire/post-apocalyptic/zombie movies and television shows are missing, it’s glamour. Yes, Edward Cullen is sparkly, but that’s not exactly the same thing.
Rachel Shukert was nice enough to answer some of my questions about the book. She dishes about what she was like in high school, what inspired the book, how she did research and she even shares some writing advice with HelloGiggles readers!
A lot of HelloGiggles readers are in high school, so could you tell us what you were like back then? Were you anything like Margaret/Margo?
Actually, I was! I was completely obsessed with old movies (although they weren’t old movies to Margo!) and just like Margo, my bedroom walls were completely papered in pictures of Bette Davis, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, and Cary Grant-this was in the olden days and you couldn’t just download things, so I had to be resourceful. I’d check out biographies of all these old stars from the library and make Xerox copies of all the pictures and hang them up everywhere. And I loved vintage clothes, and glamour–I was always showing up at high school in lots of red lipstick and big sunglasses and pearls and ’50’s cocktail dresses and things.
But other things too. When I was about the age Margo is in the book, I was very, very serious about being an actress, and very ambitious. When I went away to acting school and realized that what I really wanted to be was a movie star in the 1930’s, and not in fact an actress in the 2000’s, that dream–healthily, I think–sort of morphed into something else. But that yearning that Margo has, that deep need to want to be part of something bigger, to explore outside the confines of her proscribed world, to color outside the lines–that is something that really came from me. Honestly, there’s different parts of me in all three of the girls–in ways, they are all a little bit autobiographical.
You’ve already conquered several other genres of writing (memoir, plays, amazing Smash recaps), so what prompted the move into YA?
You know, I have always really wanted to write fiction. Novels were always something I had in my head. And with Starstruck, it wasn’t so much something I thought about in terms of genre as that I had this idea that I really, really thought would make a great YA series. I remember thinking about the old studio system, and how it was sort of this monolithic thing where everyone was supposed to know their place, and were sort of looked after/controlled by these paternalistic executives, and structurally, it seemed so much like high school. So YA felt like a natural fit that way; also, because in this era, the actresses were so young. They don’t seem it, but then you watch one of those movies and you’re shocked to realize that, say, Judy Garland or Lana Turner or whoever made it when she was only, like, nineteen. They were just girls, navigating this incredibly adult, incredibly glamorous, but incredibly dark world. And I liked the idea of these girls kind of defining themselves as women and artists, when Hollywood was also kind of building itself and finding its way. The characters and their world are going through the same growing pains.