Velvet S Pye stood outside the gates of Yarrabank High. She was certain of one thing: this was going to be the worst day ever, the beginning of a miserable year, in fact the rest of her life was totally ruined. A group of boys smoking by the front gate eyed her up and down – obviously checking out her breasts. One of them spat onto the bitumen. Velvet ignored them. She hitched her schoolbag over her shoulder and pushed her earbuds into her ears. Her music was on shuffle. As she walked through the gates, her phone chose that moment to play “The Point of No Return” from The Phantom of the Opera.
Year nine teenager, Velvet Pye is accustomed to a life of wealth and privilege. She attended an elite private school. But things changed when her family lost all their money. Now they’re living in a tiny house and she has to attend the local state high school. Nothing in her life has prepared her for this underfunded sports-mad school. Velvet refuses to play sport, and ends up in the cultural studies room, with a bunch of misfits and a teacher only marginally more together than his students. Velvet has arrived in a nightmare. Her old friends don’t want to know her, and there’s no one here she has anything in common with. Then the principal, Mr Kislinski, decides that the cultural studies group should put on a performance. Shakespeare. What a disaster! A comic one.
Velvet is a fan of musical theatre, is accustomed to travelling overseas and mixing with her culturally-homogenous peers. She is not prepared for the cultural diversity and different expectations of her new school. While her parents seem to be adjusting well to their altered circumstances, Velvet is less prepared. However, Shakespeare is going to be their connection. But to make it work, Velvet has to acknowledge the views and talents of others. She has to overcome her prejudices of the unknown and engage with individuals on their merits. High drama and humour allow the reader to navigate the complex world of secondary school students, whose often challenging home lives could otherwise be very confronting. There are themes of acceptance, individuality, tolerance. Readers will recognise many of the character-types and learn a bit more about Shakespeare’s work without even noticing! A light-hearted yet thoughtful read. Recommended for early- to mid-secondary schoolers.
Stagefright, Carole Wilkinson Black Dog Books 2013 ISBN: 9781922077585
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author