Dramarama by E. Lockhart
I have no idea how Dramarama ended up on my reading list. I have vague, associated memories of a young adult panel at Dragon*Con in 2010, but I can’t imagine I picked up there. In any case, a young adult novel about theater camp does sound up my alley, doesn’t it? I’ve been involved in theater since high school and the trauma of Debate (oh, Debate), and there’s something fannish about being the only person in your physical community who loves something and the bonds you can make with people who love that thing too. How much could it hurt? Well, a lot more than I expected…
Dramarama tells the story of Sadye (birth name Sarah) and Demi (birth name Douglas), two theater geeks who live in Brenton, Ohio, the most unfabulous place on earth. When the two meet in high school, they become best friends, and apply to Wildewood, a theatrical summer program. When they get in, they dream of taking over Wildewood and becoming fabulous royalty, but the reality is a lot more mundane than the fantasy. While Demi succeeds in both the program and his personal life, every day is an uphill battle for Sadye. Can their friendship survive theater camp?
Like a lot of young adult novels closer to the younger end of that age spectrum, Dramarama is a breezy read; I knocked it out in three hours. The characters are vaguely engaging, in that catchall teenage cast kind of way, the setting is interesting, and, hey, theater? Always fantastic and rife with conflict to fictionalize. In fact, in the afterword, Lockhart mentions that she borrowed several anecdotes from one of her friends for this novel. While the transcripts of Sadye and Demi’s tape recorder can get a little silly and twee at times (and the phone transcript at the end made me cry out, “But that’s illegal unless you tell them!” until I realized it was kind of supposed to be real time… I guess?), I can see tweens going for it. Except for something huge, it’s a light, inoffensive novel that would be great to give to the young theater geek in your life.
But that something huge is the protagonist.
Sadye is, in a word, infuriating. At first, I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt; after all, I’m not terribly fond of teenagers, but that’s a me thing. No need to punish our protagonist for it. But it soon became apparent that Sadye was just kind of an awful human being. Early on, Sadye recounts all the wacky, whimsical things she and Demi get up to; singing loudly in public, dressing differently than the other girls from Brenton (who are all awful conformists, of course; Sadye is a super special snowflake, dontcha know), so on and so forth, to the point of whining about how her boring parents never notice when she and Demi stage “halfway pornographic numbers to songs from Fiddler on the Roof” (37) in front of them. While I can kind of buy this from Demi–if he spends so much time and energy suppressing who he is, it could come out in high volume bursts, I guess?—Sadye is just an attention seeker in the absolute worst way. I wanted to shake her so badly. On top of that, she seems woefully lethargic about theater, despite her supposed enthusiasm. If her high school even has a theater department or a chorus, we wouldn’t know. Sadye has taken dance lessons since she was little, but she seems determined to be an actress instead of a dancer, which is fine, except that she whines during her acting classes like nothing else I’ve seen. On top of that, if she’s been the only theater geek she knows for most of her life, why hasn’t she reached out online? She just comes across as someone who wants the fame and glory of a thing without the actual work, which I absolutely loathe.
Now, to be fair, making an unlikable protagonist learn the error of her attention-seeking, lazy ways is a very valid character arc. But Sadye never changes. She whines through acting classes taught by a Broadway professional, whines at a director of a, to be honest, terrible version of A Midsummer’s Night Dream in the middle of rehearsal, whines at her new friends… you know what? I’m very thankful I did not listen to the audiobook of this. I don’t know if I could have taken it. The real lessons of theater—there are no small parts, only small actors, diplomatically approach problem-solving, the director is the director, shut your face, so on and so forth—fly by her, but she never picks them up. Even as she leaves at the end of the summer, she’s still whining about she’s being persecuted for speaking up and being herself, when she’s just been so obnoxious for the entire novel that no one can stand her anymore and are just glad for a reason to get rid of her.
Now, I want to be clear; I’m not saying you shouldn’t let your freak flag fly, to borrow from a musical. Personally, I think everybody is a gorgeous freak in their own way. But there’s a way to be yourself that doesn’t involve looking down at other people (Candie, a not-so-bright conservative girl, is mocked endlessly), overestimating your own talents, and disturbing the peace.
Oh, I just had a thought—is this what it’s like inside a Manic Pixie Dream Girl’s head? Horrors.
Bottom line: A light, inoffensive novel perfect for theater-loving tweens is ruined by the infuriatingly obnoxious, obtuse, and selfish heroine, who doesn’t learn a thing over the course of the novel. Avoid.
I rented this book from the public library.