I’ve decided to write a review of E. Lockhart’s Dramarama for a couple of reasons. One, because I love it. I read it last spring, and the story is still churning about in my brain. And two, because I’ve seen a lot of tired, sweaty high school students roaming the halls after preseason practices the past couple of weeks as I’ve been at school getting ready for middle school students to return tomorrow. And that’s made me think back to my own high school preseason soccer practices.
When I was in middle school, I was really into soccer, and I thought I was pretty darn good. But when I went to my first high school preseason session, I was completely intimidated. Other girls were faster and stronger than I was, with better ball handling skills and better endurance. Plus, all the best players bonded immediately and gave each other nicknames, but nobody gave me one. People yelled at other people when they messed up. Suddenly, I second-guessed myself before I did anything on the field and started hoping the ball wouldn’t come my way. I didn’t have much fun playing anymore, and I didn’t improve.
E. Lockhart’s Dramarama isn’t about soccer. But it is about a girl who loves something and thinks she can do it well…until she finds herself in a highly competitive situation that makes her doubt her talents.
Sarah Paulson doesn’t fit in her “vanilla” Ohio town, and she’s sure that she has some “lurking bigness” inside her. She and her best friend, whose real name is Douglas but who christens himself Demi and renames her Sadye, set off to claim their inner “bigness” and become stars at an intensive summer theater program called Wildwood.
It can be fun and comforting to read a story in which the seemingly ordinary main character turns out to have amazing natural talent and becomes a superstar, but that’s not what happens in Dramarama. As a writer, I always have to remind myself not to protect my protagonist too much because it’s compelling to watch characters struggle, and Lockhart definitely doesn’t protect Sadye. She is willing to let Sadye fail—to give her a summer that is not what she hoped for, on or off the stage, and to set up dynamics that push Sadye’s buttons and exploit her insecurities. She lets readers feel Sadye’s disappointments and see how she handles them—sometimes admirably, sometimes not—and she crafts a beautifully bittersweet ending, which left me with the hope that Sadye might find a new passion within the world of theater, and that new passion might be a better fit for her strengths.
Like Lockhart’s other novels, Dramarama is a very funny book, and there is a lot of authentic, book-specific slang that sounds like how teens really talk. For instance, Sadye calls herself “mint chocolate chip” in opposition to the other “vanilla” girls from her hometown, and she describes small, perky girls as “Kristinish” after Kristin Chenoweth. The book includes complex friendships with nuanced secondary characters (especially Demi) and a very interesting romance element—Sadye’s relationship with a boy she likes at Wildwood ends up being unsatisfying, but it leaves her with confidence that someone will like her for the brash, unusual girl she is.
I found it captivating to look at a character who might not quite have what it takes to succeed at the highest level, despite her passions, and who has to deal with that letdown. Because many high school extracurriculars get extremely competitive, a lot of teens will be able to relate to Sadye’s experiences, and readers who enjoy Glee will appreciate the performance focus. This is a fun, thought-provoking read, and I highly recommend it.