Acting Normal

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At eighteen, Stephanie Holt is too young to be a has-been, but she is certainly a far cry from the successful actress she once was. Stephanie had starred in numerous commercials and was well in pursuit of her dream to become a great actress, but she was forced to abandon her career when a long-surpressed memory form the past resurfaced and plunged her into an emotional breakdown. Now trying to recover, she's hoping to blend in at a new school and lead the life of a normal teenager, but her memories continue to ...
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Overview

At eighteen, Stephanie Holt is too young to be a has-been, but she is certainly a far cry from the successful actress she once was. Stephanie had starred in numerous commercials and was well in pursuit of her dream to become a great actress, but she was forced to abandon her career when a long-surpressed memory form the past resurfaced and plunged her into an emotional breakdown. Now trying to recover, she's hoping to blend in at a new school and lead the life of a normal teenager, but her memories continue to haunt her. Will Stephanie ever over come her past?

Julia Hoban captures the uncertainties of adolescence and the realities of the acting life in this riveting portrayal of a teenage actor's struggles with her own memories.At eighteen, Stephanie Holt is too young to be a has-been, but she is certainly a far cry from the successful commercial actress she once was. Her acting classes were brought to an abrupt halt when a routine memory exercise revealed a painful past Stephanie had successfully suppressed for many years. The result was a nervousbreakdown. Trying to recover, she's hoping to blend in at a new public school, but the past continues to haunt her. Julia Hoban captures the uncertainties of adolescence and the realities of the acting life in this riveting portrayal of a teenage actor's struggles with her own memories.

Author Biography: Julia Hoban's books for children include the I Can Read Books Buzby and Buzby to the Rescue, both illustrated by John Himmelman. An actress and playwright, Ms. Hoban lives in New York City.

Having had a nervous breakdown brought on by repressed memories unearthed in her acting class, eighteen-year-old Stephanie tries to recover and resume a normal life.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
About nine months after her "full-fledged nervous breakdown," 18-year-old Stephanie, once a successful commercial actress, faces her most challenging role of all: acting like a "normal" teen when she enrolls at a New York City public school ("It was my return to the real world after the past year of never-never land"). She begins seeing a new psychiatrist, her third, and in her sessions she dances around the crisis that triggered her breakdown; readers, only slightly more clued in, know it has something to do with a lesson in method acting, and that Stephanie is mired in feelings of guilt and shame. After Stephanie builds her first-ever close friendship with a classmate and develops trust in her psychiatrist, she eventually discloses that a nanny had abused her (the memory of which surfaced in acting class). Details about Stephanie's relationship with the nanny are fuzzy, and it remains ambiguous also how much her parents and psychiatrist know about her childhood trauma. What come across most clearly are Stephanie's initial sense of contamination and the inner strength she draws on to rescue her friend from a sexual predator. Despite her atypical background and psychiatric history, Stephanie comes off as a relatively sensible narrator readers can trust; they'll also enjoy the convincing insider view of the professional actor's milieu. But Hoban's (the 'Buzby' books) lengthy build-up and insufficient denouement weaken the narrative tension and may cause some members of the audience to lose patience with the protagonist's introspective sorting out of past events and present hang-ups.
VOYA - Marlyn Roberts
Eighteen-year-old Stephanie Holt began acting in television commercials when she was five. Around age sixteen, Stephanie decides to become serious about acting and takes a course in what is commonly known as "method-acting." In a memory exercise Stephanie is required to dredge up a bad memory, and remembers a time when she was five years old and got burned on the radiator in the bathroom. She suddenly regresses into that five-year-old, and has to be taken home by her instructor. It turns out that the burn was caused by an abusive nanny and Stephanie's repressed memory has been brought to the surface by the memory exercise. Stephanie has a "nervous breakdown" and is in hospitals and treatment for a year. When she finally returns to school-a different school where no one knows her-Stephanie begins seeing a new psychiatrist, since the previous ones had made no progress. This is the sort of book that gives a reviewer pause. There is nothing wrong with the writing-but there's nothing outstanding about it either. The story is interesting, but not gripping, although there is a lot of needless suspense. Stephanie's "problem" is obliquely hinted at for far too long, so that the reader begins to suspect all kinds of outrageous psychotic episodes. What happened to Stephanie is certainly shocking, but the reader's apprehension is built up to such a point that the revelation is almost a letdown. Still, the characters are well realized, and even the adults have personalities. This book will be enjoyed by teens who like problem novels, particularly when it is available in paperback. VOYA Codes: 3Q 4P S (Readable without serious defects, Broad general YA appeal, Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12).
Children's Literature
Young, talented, and tormented, 18-year-old Stephanie Holt has been a commercial actress in New York City since childhood. When she decides to further explore the craft of acting with the hope of one day becoming a "real" actress, she has a breakdown during a sense-memory exercise in an acting class. The story begins with Stephanie returning to public high school after being institutionalized for a short time. She is overcome with doubt and insecurity. Her concerned parents find her a new psychiatrist. Through her sessions with him, she begins to open up about her past, and deal with the memories that impair her. As the story unfolds, numerous breakthroughs happen for this bright and funny girl, the most endearing being a friendship she forms with the spunky "Dahlia," whom she meets at school. Although labeled for 12 and up, this complex, yet interesting story would be best tackled by those a little older.
School Library Journal
Hoban's first young adult novel is a disappointing story about a self-absorbed teenager coming back into the world after a nervous breakdown. Stephanie has acted in commercials since she was five, and when she began to study acting seriously, a sense-memory exercise revealed a traumatic hidden memory of abuse by her nanny during her early childhood. After a year in treatment, she is feeling fragile and not quite ready to return to real life. She enrolls in a public high school for the first time because her parents and therapists think a change will be good for her. Isolated both at home and at school, Stephanie rambles on, feeling sorry for herself, avoiding anything from her old life, and not quite opening up to her new therapist. When the teen makes a friend who is funny and generous but has problems of her own, the story broadens a bit. The girls take a brief trip together without permission and a frightening incident provokes an instantaneous resolution for both of them (what Stephanie's therapist calls a "conversion experience") and the story is neatly tied up. None of the characters have any depth, and serious issues, while touched upon, are never satisfactorily explored. For fiction on teens with serious problems, stick with Chris Crutcher. Susan Oliver, Tampa-Hillsborough Public Library System, FL
Kirkus Reviews
Hoban ("Buzby", 1990, etc.) creates her first novel from the contemporary headline issue of repressed memory. After years of attending a special school while modeling for TV commercials, Stephanie, 18, is in a regular high school, where her attempt to fit in is aided by her new friend, Dahlia. Stephanie harbors a haunting secret, repeatedly alluded to throughout the first half of the novel: In a series of flashbacks from Stephanie's acting classes, the sense-memory method unearths a painful memory from when she was five and was burned on her arm by her nannyþ"She was the voice, she was holding my arm against the radiator because I didn't want to do what she wanted." Given abundant clues describing nebulous fears or terrors that lurk around every corner, readers will be anticipating the abuse long before the secret is revealed. The adults in this talk-laden story, a psychiatrist and an acting teacher, prattle on with standard responses, and the parents are nothing more than props. Some implausible moments rely on coincidence, a bus happens to break down, causing friend Dahlia to try to hitchhike, leading to an assault on her by a truck driver, but result in the catharsis through which Stephanie recognizes that what happened to her was not her fault. A familiar, unembellished first-person narration makes this a comfortable read for its audience, and Stephanie is worthy of compassion in her efforts to heal an old injury.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060235192
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/31/1998
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 208
  • Age range: 12 years
  • Product dimensions: 5.75 (w) x 8.54 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Meet the Author

Julia Hoban
Julia Hoban is a woman of many talents: She writes, designs her own clothes and handbags, and attended graduate school for physics and philosophy. She lives with her husband in New York City, and is working on her next novel (and outfi t).
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Read an Excerpt

"Hey, could you tell me where I go to register?"

"Are you a new student or returning?."

"New." Raw, as a matter of fact, but he didn't have to know that.

"Go down the hall, turn left, room 212."

His directions were easy enough, but that didn't stop the queasy feeling in my stomach. I hate school, and a new school where I didn't know anybody was even worse. Especially since I hadn't been in school for almost a year. Maybe it was better this way, though. After all, the kids at my old school would have wondered what had happened to me. I couldn't have taken all the stares, and the whispers behind my back. I'm sure some people would have asked me straight out why I'd left. They probably would think they were being coot by being so open. No, a new school was definitely better.

Why were the halls so lone So far paranoia was one of the few problems I'd been spared, but I was sure that the guys wandering around must have been staring at how fat my thighs are.

"Hey, Stephanie!" a girl yelled. I turned around. Who could possibly know me here? But the girl looked right through me and grabbed hold of a tall, skinny girl. They giggled wildly and hugged each other. I felt like a fool for turning.

Room 212 was crowded with tons of students. It looked like a casting call, all those anxious faces holding their pictures and resumes hoping they'd be chosen. Only the kids here weren't actors any more than I was at that point, and they were just holding plain ordinary notebooks.

Some older students were sitting behind tables with files full of index cards. They looked like they were probably seniors. I was supposed to be a senior too.

"I hate lines,but at least if we're doing this we can't be studying," said the girl next to me.

"That's true, but I wish this didn't take so long." I turned to look at her. She was wearing what seemed like the standard uniform: sweatshirt, jeans, and boots. I was dressed pretty much the same way, and I was glad. At least I wouldn't stand out. I'd never worn clothes like that to school before, though, and it had been something of a struggle figuring out what to wear. In my other life, I used to go to school pretty decked out. Usually I had an audition to go to at the end of the day, with no time to change. Even if the audition was for something non-fancy like McDonald's, I'd still be in full on-camera makeup. Now my face was naked. It matched the way the rest of me felt. My hair was looking pretty different too. I used to have to wake up half an hour early to get it done on audition days. But the past year I barely had enough energy to wash it. I was wearing it in a ponytail, and looking around I could see that was pretty standard too.

"What's your name?" I asked the girl. I didn't really care, but I'd sort of made myself a halfhearted promise that I would try and talk to somebody for at least five minutes every day. I could feel sweat starting to trickle down my back, and my stomach wasn't that happy either. I decided that maybe five minutes every other week would be a good place to start.

"Karen. What's yours?"

"Stephanie. What grade are you in?"

"I'm a sophomore. You?"

"Sen-junior", I stuttered, but she didn't seem to notice.

"It's too bad you can't buy any coffee around here. I'm really tired. I overslept. 'Thank God I live only a block away."

"You're kidding! I live on East Seventy-seventh Street. It takes forever to get here."

"East Seventy-seventh Street! Wow, that's really a trek. Don't most of the kids in your neighborhood go to fancy prep schools? What are you doing down here?"

"Well, I. . .

"Next.

It was my turn. I was glad I didn't have to answer her, because I wouldn't have known quite what to say. Something like, "Well, yeah, most of the kids in my neighborhood do go to private schools, and I did too, but you see, I've had a kind of unusual life. I used to be in TV commercials, but after a while it got to be too much, and I fell apart, and well. . ." She would have thought I was some kind of freak. I had to learn to act normal around these kids. Wasn't that the whole point of me being in a school like this, anyway? To hang around with normal kids? To see if some of it could rub off on me? It had taken me more time to figure out my stupid outfit for the first day of school than it ever had for any audition. But in a way this was more important. It was my return to the real world after the past year of never-never land.

When my last shrink had suggested that maybe I would be ready to go back to school in the fall, I'd said yes. I was so tired of being out of it that I figured anything had to be better than staying home and watching the paint dry. Of course Dr. Stevenson had a different expression for it-she accused me of contemplating my own navel. Needless to say, we didn't always see eye-to-eye about everything. Stevenson had insisted that a public school would be best for me. My parents had balked at that; they'd wanted me to go to Spence or Brearly. At least everyone agreed that it would have been impossible to return to my old school. Not after what had happened. But Dr. Stevenson was adamant. She kept insisting that I'd spent too much time in rarefied atmospheres, kind of like a hothouse flower. Going back to school had sounded like a pretty good idea at the time. Now, however, I wasn't so sure. The few sentences I'd exchanged with Karen or whatever her name was already had me gasping for air.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2000

    A TOUCHING AND BOOK SOME TEENS RELATE TO...

    I thought this book looked ok so I checked it out for myself. I found it hillarious, sad, touching, and easy to relate to at times. This is a book about how best Friends,can not only hekp one. But help each other....

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