"Dara's larger-than-life personality and true-to-life middle grade issues command center stage until the curtain falls." School Library Journal, Starred Review
Dara Palmer is destined to be a star, and she's writing herself the role of a lifetime.
Dara longs for stardombut when she isn't cast in her middle school's production of The Sound of Music, she get suspicious. It can't be because she's not the best. She was born to be a famous movie star. It must because she's adopted from Cambodia and doesn't look like a typical fraulein. (That's German for girl.)
So irrepressible Dara comes up with a genius plan to shake up the school: write a play about her own life. Then she'll have to be the star.
Praise for Dream On, Amber:
A Booklist 2015 Top 10 First Novels for Youth
A Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2015
"[This] novel is a charmer...While its humor and illustrations lend it Wimpy Kid appeal, its emotional depth makes it stand out from the pack."Booklist Starred review
"A gutsy girl in a laugh-out-loud book that navigates tough issues with finesse." Kirkus Starred review
"Amber's effervescent and opinionated narration captivates from the start." Publishers Weekly Starred review
"By turns playful and poignant, in both style and substance, this coming-of-age novel will hook readers from the first page to the last." School Library Journal Starred review
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Dara Palmer's Major Drama
By Emma Shevah
Sourcebooks, Inc.Copyright © 2015 Emma Shevah
All rights reserved.
I never thought I'd say this, but nuns and noodles can change your life. Well, maybe they don't change everyone's, but they definitely changed mine. And not just once either, which is so freaky I don't even know how to measure it with a spoon.
No one thinks nuns are going to be life-changing. Sorry, but that's the truth. Especially not the kind of nuns who sing in trees and make clothes out of curtains like Maria in The Sound of Music, which is a musical extravaganza about not-your-usual-type-of-nun and whistling captains and singing children and double-crossing Nazi boyfriends and female deer and lonely goatherds high on a hill singing "layohlayohlay-eeh-oh." Which sounds nuts, I know, but it kind of makes sense when you see the movie. Kind of. It's still pretty nuts though, even then.
And I don't even like noodles. But if something's going to change your life, I guess noodles are better than the Black Death, a monster earthquake, a plague of poisonous frogs, or a million other terrible things.
This all happened a while ago now. Let me just say, I was a different person back then. I don't know if you're going to like the old me much when you hear what I was like, but I've changed. Stuff happened along the way — all kinds of stuff, actually. Nuns and noodles were just the beginning.
So maybe we should start there. At the very beginning.
It's a very good place to start.CHAPTER 2
It was a Wednesday morning in March, which is normally not even remotely exciting, but this one was special. We had less than two weeks left of school before spring break, which meant our music and drama teacher, Miss Snarling, was going to hold auditions for the end-of-the-year play any day now. She always held them at the end of the spring quarter so everyone knew their parts before spring break.
Lacey and I were mega-hyped about the play. That morning, we went into school bursting like exploding watermelons because the auditions had to be in the next few days. You have to understand, Lacey and I were desperate to star in it. And I mean STAR. As in lead role. As in big deal. As in loads of lines and even more attention. As in bouquets of flowers and standing ovations. As in give-me-that-part-or-I -will-die-right-here-on-the-floor.
We'd never had lead roles before. We'd never had any decent parts at all, for some mysterious reason, but this year it was different. We were in fifth grade now, and fifth graders always got the biggest parts because they were leaving for middle school. This year, our lives were going to change upside-down-edly and it was all going to start with the end-of-the-year play.
We got in trouble for chatting, for fidgeting, and then for not listening, and that was only in the first ten minutes of class. Even after Mr. Foxx sent us to sit on the quiet table for ten minutes, we were still like wind-up toys when you've just wound them up. I sat there dreaming of driving around Hollywood in my red convertible car with everyone taking photos of me. I don't know what Lacey was dreaming of, but you could bet your bottom on your dollar that her dreams were just like mine.
Lacey-Lou Davis loved drama as much as I did, which was why she was my best friend for ever and ever (BFFEAE). We were both going to be actors when we grew up. We were going to leave dry, boring England and move to America, where all the houses are mansions, all the taxis are yellow, and everyone's rich and beautiful. Lacey was moving to LA and I was moving to Hollywood. We were going to be global megastars but stay BFFEAE and eat lunch together in fancy restaurants. We had it all planned.
I was great at acting. Even Lacey said so, and Lacey knew everything about acting. She'd have told you right away if you were terrible. She told the others in our class all the time, which didn't make her massively popular. In fact, my other friends hassled me for hanging out with her, but what could I do? She was my BFFEAE. We were going places.
When Mr. Foxx called us back to our usual tables, our heads were full of buzshuzziness. We couldn't focus on our schoolwork even if we wanted to, and we really didn't want to because, let's face it, school in real life is sleeve-chewingly boring. School in the movies is way more fun. No one ever does any work; they just hang around the lockers talking to boys with flicky hair, bicker with nasty rich girls, and then jump in their cars and drive to the mall.
I love movies. I think about them every hour of every day and I act out movies in my head, like, all the time. I especially love Bradley Porter (best actor ever) and Liberty Lee (best actress ever. Actually, you're supposed to call everyone an actor now, even women, which I know about because show business is my life). I watch everything they're in over and over again, even though half the time I have no idea what they're talking about. There's this whole language I don't understand, with words like proms and pageants and homecoming and vanity cases and tenth grade and Thanksgiving. I'm, like, Huh? What are all those things?
Even though I was good at acting, I still practiced so I could get as good as Liberty Lee. Every night I made faces in front of the mirror, like being surprised and sad and delighted. My best face was the one where someone says a stinging comment and you look to the side and think long and hard about it (which you have to do in soap operas).
Lacey even agreed that that was my best face. Her best face is shock. She's so good at it! I just know she'll get parts in movies where she's, like, in the sea all relaxed and she looks up and there's a massive tidal wave coming (close-up of her face) and she freaks out, turns around to swim away and sees a gigantic shark right in front of her with its jaws open. There are loads of movies like that. She's going to be so famous.
I could do surprised faces but they weren't as good as Lacey's. I could cry better than Lacey though — I'd been working on it. My secret was that I imagined an earthquake ripping up our road, making our house collapse, and my parents and my brother Felix got trapped in the rubble. They didn't die or anything; I'm not that mean. But the panic of not knowing whether they were alive or dead made me cry in zero seconds flat.
I wasn't proud to admit my technique, but it really worked. The tears welled up and came rolling out of my eyes. I'm sure that's how Liberty Lee does it as well.
After the first lesson, Mr. Foxx announced that the fifth graders had to go into the hall for an assembly. Lacey and I squealed at each other with outstretched eyes and flapped our hands in excite-a-panic.
This was it!
We scurried in and sat on the floor with our legs crossed, jiggling our knees. Miss Snarling stood up, holding a hefty pile of paper. She was wearing a yellow cardigan, black trousers, and yellow shoes so she looked a bit like a giant wasp. Her name suited her down to the ground — Lacey reckoned her first name was "Always." She was the meanest music and drama teacher ever and she always chose the most boring old-fashioned plays no one even liked. Last year she picked Little Shop of Horrors and we were like ... huh? Little what of what?
"Good morning, everyone," she said. She was tall and wide with a gap in her teeth and a bush of curly hair like Medusa snakes, and she always wore at least one thing that was yellow. I'm sorry but nobody wears yellow. Maybe they do in India or the Caribbean or places where it's hot and happy, but not in London. It's just ... wrong.
"I'm happy to announce that we will be holding auditions today for the end-of-the-year play, which will be ..."
Lacey yelped. I held my breath. Who Stole My Brain?, I thought. Please say Who Stole My Brain?
"The Sound of Music!"
Huh? Lacey and I looked at each other in horror.
It sounded so lame.
It was ancient for sure. Everyone else looked as confused as we did.
"As some of you may not know The Sound of Music, I'll briefly outline the story, and Mrs. Lefkowitz has agreed to let us watch the first half of it now. It's a long film so we can't see it all, but you'll have enough of an idea by then and we can watch the rest after spring break."
Oooh, yay! OK, it wasn't Who Stole My Brain? but watching a movie instead of having lessons almost made up for it. This was turning into a very good day!
Miss Snarling explained the story (weird) and then closed the curtains. My knees were jiggling so hard I had to put my hands on them to calm them down. She started the film and in a second, we shuummed back in time to the olden days.
I tell you, The Sound of Music might have been ancient but it was so good. When she turned the film off, everyone went, "Ooooowwwwwhhhh" even though it was recess, which everyone knows is the best part of school.
Miss Snarling clapped her hands and said, "The auditions will be in here after recess. Those of you who don't want to be in the play, please stay in your classrooms with your teachers."
I already knew who I wanted to be. More than anything ever in my entire life, I wanted to be Maria. I wanted to be her so much my bones ached, my head hurt, and my blood went zizzy. I knew I'd be perfect. Better than Lacey. I mean, Lacey had the right face: she had sticky-toffee hair and peanut-butter eyes and a nose like a right-angled triangle. Her hair was long and she wore it in a high pony with a braid so it looked a long rope coming off the top of her head. She had a lazy left eye and a chin dimple, but apart from that, she almost looked like Maria in the film. But Lacey sings like a cat with its head stuck in a lawnmower. I was hoping she could be Liesl though, and then we'd both have main parts.
"I mean it, Lacey," I murmured as we stood up to leave, "if we don't get lead roles this year, I'll —"
"I know!" Lacey hooted. "If we don't, I'm writing to the Prime Minister and the Queen. I so will as well. I don't even care —"
"Um, girls!" Mr. Foxx snapped, making us jump sky high. "You two chatterboxes don't have to blurt out every single thought that comes into your heads, you know."
Lacey and I looked at each other and were like, umm. Course we do. Duh.CHAPTER 3
We talked about the play the whole way through recess. There were three benches in the playground but we sat on the same one every day so it was basically ours. Sometimes we had a talking recess and sometimes we had an acting and singing recess, when we used the bench as our stage to do scenes from Liberty Lee films and sing into our water bottles.
No one ever joined us. Partly because Lacey kept telling everyone that we were going to be global megastars and they didn't stand a chance, and partly because they'd learned a long time ago that they couldn't get a word in edgewise. Lacey and I usually talked at the same time as well because however long we had, it was never long enough to say all the things we needed to say. The rest of our class rolled their eyes when they saw the two of us coming, but that was something we just had to get used to. Lacey says the first thing actors need to learn is this: not everyone can deal with your talent.
After the bell rang, we still hadn't finished talking. They should definitely make recess at least an hour.
All through the next class, when we were supposed to be doing mental math, I practiced doing Maria's faces: shocked when she sees the whistles for the kids, kind-but-teacherish when they run into her room during the thunderstorm, and sappy when she gazes at Captain von Trapp. I got some funny looks from Mr. Foxx but I didn't even care.
There was just one itty-bitty problem.
Miss Snarling. She totally hated Lacey and me. I don't even know why. She never gave us any main parts. We'd both wanted to be Tracy in Hairspray and Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors and we were devastated when Miss Snarling gave them to Ella Moss-Daniels.
It was so not fair. Ella Moss-Daniels acted like a three-legged dog in a blender. She'd had main parts even when we were little. Lacey said it was because Ella's mum was chair of the PTA and her dad gave the school a big donation for the library — nothing to do with her acting or anything. I asked my dad if he would give a big donation to the library too, but he just looked at me in a way that said rude things without actually saying anything rude with his mouth. Dad was good at that look. I was going to have to try it.
I was a teaspoonful of worried. If I didn't get the part of Maria, I was probably going to curl up in a ball and die. It was that bad.
At the auditions, I went up fourteenth. The thirteen people before me were as lame as a one-legged donkey with a broken ankle, so I knew I stood a chance.
I had to read the part where Maria arrives at the von Trapp house to meet the children. Then I had to sing the song. You know, the song. The one with raindrops and roses and kittens with mittens and brown paper packages tied up with strings (which, by the way, I've never even seen, so it wouldn't be one of my favorite things).
Anyway, I rocked. It was the best audition I'd ever done. The whole way through, Miss Snarling's face looked like a lizard dying on a rock, but I ignored her. I also ignored Ella Moss-Daniels, Abi Compton, Kezia Krantz, Benji Hyer, and all the others in the hall who were rolling their eyes and smirking, because what did they know? They couldn't even act, which is why they had to go to Miss Snarling's drama classes. Lacey and I were way beyond that.
I knew I'd done well. You can just feel these things in your lower intestines. Lacey's audition was great too. I was a teaspoonful of worried that she'd get Maria instead of me, but it was never going to happen. Lacey can act, sure, but she can't sing to save her life. I'd never tell her that, obviously. Some things you can't even tell your best friend if you still want her to be your best friend afterward.
While the others auditioned, Lacey and I sat in the back. We couldn't stop talking about the different parts and who should be which of the minor characters — we had it all worked out. All Miss Snarling had to do was ask and we'd have told her how to cast the whole thing.
Bubbles of excitement fizzled through us from top to toe. We were like bottles of pop that fell out of the fridge and went dung-duh-dung-duh-dung on the floor.
That afternoon, we were called back into the hall.
Miss Snarling was announcing the results.CHAPTER 4
It felt like any other assembly, but it wasn't. This was all or nothing. Win or lose. Life and death.
Miss Snarling stood at the front, near the stage. I sat up tall so she'd see me and think, "That girl is a star. A star." And I'd get every lead in every play until I left (for America). She didn't seem to notice me though. Her eyes scanned over the sea of kids on the floor. She saw me sticking up, my eyes flashing signals at her like a shipwrecked person waving madly on a raft, and she carried on scanning.
I slumped down again. I was so nervous. I chewed the skin at the sides of my fingernails and my heart knocked in my rib cage like a stick being dragged across a fence.
"And now for the cast ..." Miss Snarling said.
There was a hush so hushy you could hear my heart bamming all the way up in Scotland. I stopped breathing for I don't even know how long. Technically, I wasn't even alive anymore.
"The lead role of Maria goes to ..."
I could hear her say "Dara Palmer," and I'm sure Lacey heard her say "Lacey-Lou Davis," but what really came out of Miss Snarling's mouth was "Ella Moss-Daniels."
My heart went huuuuggggggghhhhht.
I still wasn't breathing so I was technically dead but now I was dead and having a heart attack (which you'd think was impossible, but I managed it). Lacey and I looked at each other with actual shocked faces (no acting this time) and were like, what? Tears scorched my eyes and I hadn't even been thinking about earthquakes. I had to stretch my eyelids open and inspect the ceiling to stop the tears rolling out, because that makes your tears dry up. It's better than wiping your eyes because that looks so obviously like you're crying, and I didn't want anyone to know. It does make you look a bit like a goldfish though.
Then Miss Snarling read out the rest of the cast. Lacey and I held our breaths and scrunched our skirts into balls with anxiety. My heart got stamped on every time Miss Snarling said someone else's name. I didn't get any of the parts, not Captain von Trapp, or his children, or the boring Baroness, or even stupid Rolf, Liesl's boyfriend, who tells the other soldiers where the von Trapps are hiding.
Miss Snarling didn't give one — not one — of them to me. She didn't even give me a tiny part, like the head nun, which was actually fine with me because she sings a really boring song about climbing mountains and I really didn't want to have to sing it.
Lacey got the part of a soldier. She wasn't going to be singing any solos, which was a good thing for everyone.
"A soldier?" Lacey whispered. "Why did I get a stupid soldier?"
My intestines were in a knot and my throat was clamped so tightly that I couldn't even answer. Everyone without a part was in the choir.
How could this have happened when I was going to be mega-famous? Miss Snarling was going to regret this big-time.
At lunch, I sat with Lacey in the cafeteria, surrounded by rowdy chitchat, the clang of cutlery on plates, and the sour smell of hot dogs. Neither of us chose the stir-fried noodles — because, seriously, ew — so we ate hot dogs and stared into the air in front of us in shock.
"What kind of nuns sing in trees anyway?" Lacey muttered.
I didn't know. I knew what noodles were though, and I wasn't one tiny bit happy about them being pasted to my hair.
Let me get this straight: I am not the type of person who usually has noodles stuck to my hair — this was a onetime thing. And they were only there because Doug Wheatly flicked the contents of his spoon at my head just as Lacey said the "ees" part of "trees."
He went flick.
They went plack.
I went huuuggghhhuuuggghh!
Noodles. In my hair. On my head.
My whole body rigid-i-fied with terror. "Lacey!" I gasped. "Help me!"
Lacey yelped, sprang up, and pushed her chair back so fast it fell over with a cruckcrungcrungcrung on the floor.
"OMG. UCCCHHTTT!. ... Can't. I'm sorry. I just." Her face was white as a dead person about to puke. She shrank away from me, making her that's-beyond-my-limit face. You'd have thought a giant tarantula was sitting on my head.
I tried to keep calm and act cool but noodles were in my hair. My hair. My clean, shiny hair that's very near my face. I can't even talk about how blugh that was. I tried to remind myself that Doug Wheatly's brain was the size of an ant egg. A very small ant egg. With an ugly runty moldy mutant ant inside that should have been eaten by an anteater or crushed by a giant boot long ago but had somehow survived. Sadly.
Excerpted from Dara Palmer's Major Drama by Emma Shevah. Copyright © 2015 Emma Shevah. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
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