Stagefright by Carole Wilkinson

cover image

Black Dog Books 2013. ISBN: 9781922077585. Paperback, 289 pp. RRP: $15.99
(Age 13+) Recommended. What a talented writer Carole Wilkinson is, seemingly able to turn her creative hand to any genre. Not many writers have the chance to publish their novels twice either! This is exactly what Carole did with Stagefright - you will enjoy the anecdote of how this came about at the end of this hugely funny but also insightful book.
Velvet S. Pye is feeling very hard done by - with the sudden plunge of the family fortunes from very comfortably off to pretty well destitute, Velvet has lost everything she considers important. She's lost her clarinet and her piano, there are no more luxury holidays, her old friends have deserted her and worst of all she can no longer attend St Theresa's Anglican Ladies College. Instead she is forced to attend her local state high school Yarrabank High - which is not only apparently full of feral students but has no music or dramatic program of any description, all available funding being poured into the school's sporting program. For a girl who despises sport, landing in the middle of a school renowned for its sporting prowess, headed up by a sports mad Principal Kislinski, there could be no worse fate.
Bringing all her energy to finding a way to get out of sport, Velvet finally convinces Mr Kislinski that she is completely and utterly without any aptitude for any kind of physical activity and is off the hook. Her delight with her success is short-lived however, when she finds the alternative for the very few non-sporting students is a Cultural Studies class, populated by a small but particularly bizarre group of misfits the like of which she has never before encountered, including jaded teacher Mr MacDonald.
No doubt motivated by his annoyance with this bunch of no-hopers, Mr Kislinski charges the group with living up to the Cultural Studies title and 'giving back to the school' by producing a performance for the school's anniversary celebrations. With no budget, zero motivation and apparently few skills, the Cultural Studies group surprise themselves bonding into a supportive team of friends with a modicum of various talents, in the process turning Shakespeare's Richard the Third into a rock musical.
A continuing thread of hilarity runs through this novel and I found myself laughing out loud on several occasions, but underlying the humour is a strong message about what is most valuable in one's life, not judging on appearances and tolerance. Carole Wilkinson suggests it is possible that there will be another Yarrabank High novel and I for one will look forward to encountering the students and staff again.
Recommended for readers 13 +, it would work well as read aloud for both boys and girls though I think boys might be put off by the rather 'girly' looking cover.
Sue Warren