SYNOPSIS: Readers of John Green, Sarah Dessen, and Laurie Halse Anderson will be touched by the emotional depth and realistic characters of Jennifer Castle’s YA novel You Look Different in Real Life.
Justine charmed the nation in a documentary film featuring five kindergartners. Five years later, her edgy sense of humor made her the star of a second movie that caught up with the lives of the same five kids.
Now Justine is sixteen, and another sequel is in the works. Justine isn’t ready to have viewers examining her life again. She feels like a disappointment, not at all like the girl everyone fell in love with in the first two movies. But, ready or not, she and the other four teens will soon be in front of the cameras again.
Smart, fresh, and frequently funny, You Look Different in Real Life is a piercing novel about life in an age where the lines between what’s personal and what’s public aren’t always clear.
REVIEW: In You Look Different in Real Life, Jennifer Castle dives into the lives of five characters, examining who they were at six, why they were at eleven, who they are at sixteen, and who they will be in more depth than would be possible in a novel without such a unique structure.
Lance and Leslie had a vision: a documentary that shared the lives of five children as the aged over the course of twenty years. After interviewing kindergarteners at an elementary school, they found their five children: Justine, Felix, Nate, Rory, and Keira. Each child had something unique about him or her—like Justine’s snarkiness and Rory’s social anxiety. Lance and Leslie knew that these kids’ lives would translate well to the screen.
And they were right: Five at Six was a huge success. But when they revealed too much of Keria—showing her face when her father told her that her mother had left them—in Five at Eleven, terrible reviews poured in. The reviews were so terrible that Lance and Leslie’s producers felt the need to keep them on short leashes once the time for Five at Sixteen came around.
The novel is narrated by Justine. Plagued with stomach pains in Five at Six and keeping her snarky charm in Five at Eleven, Justine is used to being the star. But now, for Five at Sixteen, Justine doesn’t feel like her life is far from star-worthy. She has no boyfriend, she ditched her best friend, and she’s twenty pounds too heavy.
As Justine tells the story, we learn of all the others’ lives through her eyes. She has a way of noticing when something is off, of realizing when people are keeping secrets. Without her narration, we would not understand the lives of the others’ so fully.
Felix, Nate, Rory, and Keira are all faced with life-altering decisions. Of all of their stories, I was most drawn to Rory’s. Her social anxiety has kept her from being able to make lasting friendships. But when she ends up at a party in New York City, she makes a huge leap when she agrees to dance with a stranger. Although it seems small, this one decision is bound to change Rory’s life for the better.
Nate and Keira have what I thought were the most intense stories. They are connected in a way that none of the other Five at children are because they have such similar lives. Keira’s mom left her in Five at Eleven, and Nate has never met his father. This shared lack of a parent allows Nate and Keira to understand each other on a deep level.
Felix’s story is perhaps the most heartbreaking. Whereas most of the Five at children have been putting on a mask in the movies, Felix puts on a mask even in front of himself.
Jennifer Castle does an excellent job of pulling her readers into the lives of these five characters. Despite having to focus on large time spans of so many lives, Castle develops each character equally. And for that reason, I highly recommend You Look Different in Real Life. Justine’s, Felix’s, Nate’s, Rory’s, and Keira’s stories will push and pull at you, teaching you something about yourself as they tell you who they really are.
Reviewed by: Stephanie
Rating: 4/5 DIAMONDS