Series or Stand Alone: Stand Alone
Summary: Set under the boiling sun of Tampa, Florida, the young adult novel, CARDBOARD CHARACTERS, tells the story of sixteen-year-old Leah Bergan, a girl who knows that you can’t build a boat out of cardboard. And you should trust her on that. She and her best friend, Eddie, have been trying for months. And not just cardboard: plastic, paper, the hood of a junk-yard car. They’re running out of ideas and time.
Time gets even tighter when Leah is accidentally cast as the lead in her high school’s play. Suddenly, Leah is stuck in the spotlight -- and stuck going four hour rehearsals. Instead of being surrounded by the ocean, she’s now surrounded by a bunch of wacky drama kids, who like to stare deeply into the distance and make up stories about doors.
Leah just wants to survive the play without humiliating herself, but the student director, Minerva Watson, has other plans. To Leah, it seems like Minerva only has two goals in life: 1) Turn Leah into an actress, whether she likes it or not and 2) Keep the drama club from getting shut down by the student government. But when one of Minerva’s schemes involves Leah’s friend Eddie, Leah is forced to choose between protecting him and lying to everyone, including her long-lost love, Nathan, or telling the truth and losing everything. Then, of course, things go horribly wrong, and Leah ends up stuck twenty miles outside a town called Christmas, next to a gift store selling alligator meat. But with the help of her crazy cast-mates, Leah might just make it home, take the stage and even finish her boat, learning a little bit about life, love, and character development along the way.
Leah wants one thing out of drama class: to remain in the back with costumes or set pieces, far away from the eyes of any audience. Unfortunately, her joke of an audition was understood as yet-to-be-tapped acting talent and she is cast as the lead. If this wasn’t enough, she has to deal with her best friend Eddie’s feelings for her (that she doesn’t return), attempting to work on the cardboard boat project they started without having to deal with any admissions of love from him, the feelings she has for Treasurer Boy Nathan Arnold (who seems to just barely register that she exists), and a power-tripping student government attempting to shut down the play. What’s a girl to do? AVOID! Eventually, a mental breakdown and trip to a town called Christmas show Leah that she can’t avoid her issues forever. Plus, there's a cool post-Wonderland Alice in Wonderland play at the end.
Leah made for an incredibly realistic teenage girl. She spoke like so many of the teenagers that come into contact with when I work at the library. I saw echoes of my own high school friends when she spoke of her crushes. Insisting on calling Nathan Arnold “Treasurer Boy” mirrored my friend’s tendency to call the boy she liked “Ketchup,” though Leah’s made a lot more sense than that particular quirk. While Leah’s tendency of avoiding every single problem that she had was undoubtedly a fault, I considered it to be an entertaining and believable one.
One of the most interesting aspects of the novel was Eddie’s reverse coming-out story. As a character that was assumed gay by most of his friends, Eddie constantly worried about how coming out as straight would affect his relationships with friends, his relationship with Leah, and how it would affect the money given to the drama club for diversity. I thought it was pretty unique plot point.
The drama kids were realistically portrayed. In my high school experience I encountered drama kids that were obsessed with the club and only cared about their “craft.” However, my favorite aspect of this novel had to be the power-tripping student government kids. While I didn’t find it entirely believable that SGA members would be in charge of something like scholarship money, I found it probable that certain students given a bit of power would run with it. I liked that they were at such odds with the drama kids and that the president thought he was the king of the world.
The drawback I saw was that some of the relationships between characters are a bit underdeveloped. I would have liked to see more of the relationship between Leah and her mother to understand its antagonistic nature further. I also would have liked to see more between Leah and Nathan. However, I thought the friendship between Leah and Eddie was well explored and not cliched, especially with the complications from Eddie’s fake school identity.
Side note: the play they performed in this book sounded really cool. I’d totally be interested in seeing that written!
All and all, Julie Seifert’s Cardboard Characters was a quick and different contemporary read. I think it would be of particular interest to drama kids or past drama kids!