You Look Different in Real Life by Jennifer Castle
Published Date: June 4th 2013
From: Arc from Publishers
My rating: 4 out of 5
For the rest of the world, the movies are entertainment. For Justine, they're real life.
The premise was simple: five kids, just living their lives. There'd be a new movie about them every five years, starting in kindergarten. But no one could have predicted what the cameras would capture. And no one could have predicted that Justine would be the star.
Now sixteen, Justine doesn't feel like a star anymore. In fact, when she hears the crew has gotten the green light to film Five at Sixteen, all she feels is dread. The kids who shared the same table in kindergarten have become teenagers who hardly know one another. And Justine, who was so funny and edgy in the first two movies, feels like a disappointment.
But these teens have a bond that goes deeper than what's on film. They've all shared the painful details of their lives with countless viewers. They all know how it feels to have fans as well as friends. So when this latest movie gives them the chance to reunite, Justine and her costars are going to take it. Because sometimes, the only way to see yourself is through someone else's eyes.
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
I read The Beginning of After and loved the way that Castle has you thinking about the characters all the way through. So when I had the chance of reading this one I jumped at it.
Castle has a unique gift of providing us with characters that somehow fit into a category. But their personalities are not at all what you would expect and when it comes to teenagers of sixteen and seventeen with all the baggage that comes with teens these days I think she got this one spot on.
So Justine, Keira, Rory, Felix and Nate are all child stars of the hit documentary series Five at Six/Eleven/Sixteen. It started when they were six years old. They were chosen from a large group to feature in the documentary with an aim to find them in five years time and see how they and their families had changed. Five at Six was a huge hit. Five at Eleven was even better. So when the producers find Justine, sitting on a wall outside her local library, not only does Justine know that she's going to be in the spotlight again but she also knows that she'll be a huge disappointment to everyone who watched the shows previously. From the beginning she's against Five at Sixteen. Mostly because when they filmed Eleven she told the cameras everything she wanted to be and to achieve. And in real life she hasn't done any of it. She's heavier than she'd like to be, just been dumped by a boyfriend, has no hobbies to speak of, and apart from a few conversation with Felix has little or no contact with the other three stars.
What we learn as we read the story through flashbacks and private meetings is that they've all changed. Grown up, grown away from one another. Mostly they've all be affected by their lives being open to public scrutiny, to be criticised and contradicted. Their family lives are different. Justine's own father now doesn't live at home and they only have a family dinner on Thursdays.
When Sixteen gets talked about openly Justine sees her parents diving at the opportunity. She sees for the first time how her mother would like more publicity for her business. How her father likes the attention. Surprisingly her sister, Olivia, says she wants nothing to do with it. The films of the past must have affected her own life.
When filming starts the producers are confused. Why are this kids not performing like they used to? Where are the stars that the public know and love? Justine was always funny on film. The others all had their own idiosyncrasies too. As Justine points out, they're all teenagers now. They have the weight of the world on their shoulders. Parents expectations, their own expectations, genuine friendships that are hard to find. None of the 5 gel together. They've all fallen apart in five years.
Although the filming is supposed to be natural and organic, the producers realise they'll have to break a few rules with this one. They use Nate's swim meet as one example to get all the five together in one room. All it proves is that the five kids would rather be anywhere else. So a team building weekend is suggested, that doesn't work well either...until Keira exploits the opportunity and uses it to her own advantage. When Keira goes missing the other four can't do anything but go after her. And that's where the true story of the Five at Sixteen film begins.
I've seen this experiment many times on documentaries on TV. Personally I would hate the idea of a camera following me round constantly to get an eyeful of my life. Sure, when your six years old everything is funny and a joke. When you're eleven things start getting a bit more serious. The exploitation of the kids lives can never be realised until they're much older and by that time its too late. People judge you by what you see on TV not by who you really are in real life. Much like actors and actresses we see today.
I thought Castle did a fantastic job with the story. Autism and Gay were proudly shown in their true finery. Family break ups and friendships were discussed in length and all told with a sympathetic voice and a strong resolution. The story is heartbreaking at times, especially when Castle reveals why the five don't get along any more. And a good ending that wrapped up the story nicely was perfect.
Recommended to anyone who loved Castle's previous work and anyone who watches reality TV!-CB x