My Life: The Musical has its roots in author Maryrose Wood's own teenage experience in the chorus of a Broadway production and subsequent jobs writing, acting in, and directing various plays and musicals. Sixteen-year-old best friends Emily and Philip met and bonded over a shared passion for the (fictional) Broadway musical Aurora. Suburban kids from Long Island, they sneak off to New York every Saturday to see a matinee (jumping through serious hoops to escape parental notice, and using borrowed money). For them, Aurora is a near-religious experience, and they consider their time and money well spent. When the horrific possibility of the show closing arises, various hijinks ensue.
Emily and Philip's obsession with Aurora is set against the backdrop of their own relationship. It's unclear to each of them whether they are just friends, or whether they like each other. Philip is starting to wonder (after much harassment from his older brother about his love of theater) whether he might, possibly, be gay. This question lends a bit of a twist to the "best friends who might become more" storyline.
The viewpoint shifts between Emily and Philip. Philip lives with his mother and older brother, in reduced financial circumstances, and he marvels at Emily's more stable upbringing. Here's an example:
"Last year Philip had been invited to join them (to watch the Tony awards). It had been a marvelous evening, almost too marvelous for Philip to bear. Parents who liked each other! Laughter in the living room! Home-cooked snacks--and the Tony Awards! It was a lot to absorb. (Chapter 3)
Because of the uncertainty in his home life, Philip becomes a numbers guy, keeping track via spreadsheet of all of the performances that he and Emily have attended, including details of each show.
"There were many facts about Aurora, and Philip knew them all, but his personal favorite was the length of each performance. The first act of Aurora ran sixty-six, sixty-seven, or sixty-eight minutes, depending on how much applause there was... The figures never varied, which Philip found extraordinary, since when his mother went to work on Monday and said "See you later," sometimes it meant later for dinner, and other times she didn't come home for two days because of a business trip to Wilmington that she'd forgotten to mark on her calendar." (Chapter 1)
And of course, he worries about his sexuality.
Emily is more secure. She is believably self-absorbed, in the way of many a sixteen year-old girl. While loyal and generous with Philip, she also blithely lies to her parents about Aurora, and borrows money with little thought of paying it back. When the possibility of Aurora closing arises, she is the very picture of melodrama:
"Is this how things ended, she'd wondered at 3:18 a.m., when she finally left her bed and stared out the bedroom window at the street below. With the last time of whatever it was you loved already over, and you didn't know it was the last time, so you didn't pay special attention or say goodbye or anything?
If that was what last times felt like, she realized with horror, anything could be the last time. This could be the last time Emily stood shivering in front of her window, or the last night she spent in her own bed.
Maybe a meteor would strike her house this minute and crush them all to powder, making this the last time she'd be able to think about what last times felt like!" (Chapter 15)
Can't you just see her writing poems about life, death, and identity? Boy, can Maryrose Wood channel the mind of a sixteen-year-old girl.
Emily and Philip aside, at it's core, My Life the Musical is a love letter to the theater. The cover has the book title and author's name in lights. The chapter titles are songs from musicals, complete with references. Philip and Emily muse, individually and together, about the larger-than-life attributes of musicals. Emily's grandmother is also a passionate musical fan. A sub-plot involves a high school production of Fiddler on the Roof. Other characters include dancers, composers, hanger's on, and Aurora's star performer.
I highly recommend this title for theater buffs from middle school and up, especially for fans of musicals. Any "drama club geek from the suburbs" (as the author describes herself) will be completely unable to resist, and will be likely to settle in for multiple readings. Although the main characters are sixteen, I think that the book is quite accessible for middle school kids. Emily and Philip's musings on dating and sexuality are just that, musings, and they actually feel quite a bit younger than their calendar ages in this regard. For those who aren't theater fans, My Life the Musical offers a window into another world, and a chance to see what all the fuss is about. Here's hoping for many encore books from Maryrose Wood.
Publication Date: March 2008
Source of Book: ARC from the publisher at NCTE. Note that all quotes are from the ARC, and may not be reflected in the final book.
Links: See my review of Maryrose Wood's first book, Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs Fall in Love
Author Interviews: The Faerie Drink Review, Sharing the Brain
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.