Shannon in the Spotlight

Shannon in the Spotlight

by Kalena Miller
Shannon in the Spotlight

Shannon in the Spotlight

by Kalena Miller


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After Shannon accidentally lands a lead role in the summer musical, she realizes she has bigger things to worry about than stage fright in this contemporary middle-school novel about strained friendships, the positive power of theater, and the realities of being a tween with OCD.

Shannon Carter never considered herself much of a theater person. Not like her two BFFs, Elise, an actress, and Fatima, a techie. Shannon’s always been content to stay backstage, helping wherever she can. But when the director of the summer musical hears Shannon singing, he encourages her to step out of the wings and into the spotlight.

At first, Shannon is hesitant. As a twelve-year-old with obsessive-compulsive disorder, she depends on routine. But when she braves the audition, she discovers that center stage is the one place where she doesn’t feel anxious. She lands a lead role, and everyone in her life is ecstatic . . . except Elise.

To make matters worse, Shannon’s eccentric and opinionated grandmother moves in with her and her mom after a fluke house fire. As opening night approaches, Shannon feels pressure to save her friendship with Elise, to make Mom and Grandma Ruby act like grown-ups, and to follow the old theater adage The show must go on.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593486054
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication date: 04/25/2023
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 371,959
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range: 10 - 12 Years

About the Author

Kalena Miller grew up in College Station, Texas. After high school, she moved a thousand miles north to attend Carleton College, where she graduated with a BA in Religious Studies. After a brief stint working as a paraeducator in Seattle, Kalena decided she missed school too much, so she spent the next two years pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing at Hamline University. Kalena lives in Minnesota with her husband, Kenny, and their Toy Australian Shepherd, Toshley. She loves books that make her laugh and make her cry, preferably at the same time, and she firmly believes all quality novels should feature a cat.

Read an Excerpt


I stare at the ripped sheet of notebook paper taped to the auditorium door. There’s a pen dangling from a string beside it and a line of kids waiting to sign up. Elise grabs the pen and scrawls her name at the bottom of the list.

“This is your chance, Shannon.” Fatima prods me in the side with a sparkly blue nail and gives me a knowing look. She takes the pen from Elise and hands it to me. I shake my head, drop the pen, and watch it bounce back against the wall.

There are different levels of theater kids.

I’m a level one. I enjoy working on shows, but I’m mostly here for my friends. I’m a techie, which means I do behind-the-scenes stuff. It’s true I sometimes envy the actors—singing and dancing is probably more fun than spending hours with a hot glue gun—but I stay where I’m comfortable. Standing alone onstage? Being judged by my friends? Performing for a packed audience? Those are the total opposite of comfortable.

Fatima is a level two. Like me, she prefers to work backstage. But while I’m partial to costume design and props, Fatima is obsessed with anything involving hammers and screwdrivers. Operating a power drill is her favorite hobby. She’s talented too. Last summer, Fatima built a giant doghouse all by herself for our production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

Elise, the only actor among us, is a solid level three. She spends the week after auditions working on her prediction chart, a massive bulletin board where she guesses the entire cast list. Imagine a serial killer’s lair with pictures and Post-it notes connected by bits of string. Except with more sequins.

“Are you sure?” Fatima asks. Kids are jostling behind us, but I stand frozen in place, staring at the list.

“Yeah, you should audition. You could be, like, a nun or something.” Elise’s words are supportive, but her voice is hollow. She’s never said this out loud, but I know she enjoys being the only actor in our trio. Despite her fancy voice lessons, Elise gets insecure about her singing.

I take one more, slightly wistful, glance at the notebook paper, then shake my head. “Nope. I don’t sing in public.” That’s my go-to excuse for avoiding the spotlight. Nobody needs to know about the hours I spend under the covers watching videos of Broadway stars, imagining what it would feel like to be onstage.

Fatima sighs, disappointed by my decision, but Elise nods happily. She’s jittery as we find seats in the darkened auditorium. We pick a row halfway back, near the other middle schoolers. As usual, I sit between my two best friends. Fatima is the kindest person I’ve ever met, but Elise’s nervous energy on audition day stresses her out.

“Are we sure the song from The Secret Garden is right for me?” Elise’s leg is bouncing up and down.

“Omigod, yes.” Fatima sighs. “We’ve been over this a gazillion times.”

“Okay.” Elise chews on her thumbnail, and her shaking legs cause our entire row of auditorium seats to vibrate. I’m about to place one hand on her thigh to stop her trembling but then change my mind. Elise never complains when I’m acting weird.

That reminds me. I slide a tube of ChapStick out of my pocket and trace my lips in three complete circles. I press my lips together three times to evenly spread the waxy balm, then snap the lid back on.

My therapist would tell me to resist the urge to soothe my lips, but it’s hard to fight my brain all the time. I know it’s irrational, but I fear the entire day will be ruined if my lips get chapped. And with auditions today, I’m not taking any chances.

The noisy chatter filling the auditorium fades to silence as Mr. Bryant, the director of the Rosewood Youth Community Theater, walks onto the stage. A few rows behind us, Robert Zhang shushes everyone, even though the room is already quiet. (Yes, he’s that kid.) Next to me, Elise’s leg twitching intensifies as a dramatic spotlight shines on our director.

“Are you serious with that spot, Amir?” Mr. Bryant yells, squinting. “Come help with these packets.”

In the back corner of the theater, Amir laughs and shuts off the light. Fatima groans. Amir is Mr. Bryant’s star performer, personal coffee fetcher, and occasional substitute director. He’s also Fatima’s older brother.

“Welcome to the auditions for Rosewood Youth Community Theater’s production of The Sound of Music!” Mr. Bryant gestures dramatically—because nobody in this room does anything not dramatically—while Amir fetches the stapled packets and hands them out, row by row. “While I’m excited to see so many returners, we also have some new faces,” Mr. Bryant continues. “So let me explain how auditions will work . . .”

This is my third show, so I know the drill. Everyone auditioning will perform a thirty-second monologue and at least sixteen bars of a song. You’re allowed to watch the other auditions, and even techies like me and Fatima can sit in the audience as long as we’re quiet. Mr. Bryant only has two rules: No parents in the auditorium. And no Disney songs.

“Does that make sense to everyone?” Mr. Bryant asks, finishing his speech. There’s a sea of nods, but nobody says anything.

Except for Elise, who whispers directly into my ear, “What about my monologue?” Her voice is frantic. “Maybe I need something with more emotional range? What do you think?”

My thoughts are that (1) Mr. Bryant usually checks his phone during the monologues, so (2) they can’t matter that much, and (3) even if they do matter, it’s too late for Elise to change anything now. Of course, I can’t tell her any of those things.

“I love what you picked,” I whisper back. “You don’t want something too emotional.”

Elise nods, but I can tell from the stricken look on her face I didn’t help.

“All right! Let’s get started.” Mr. Bryant claps his hands, then heads to his usual table at the back of the theater. “Amir, you’re first. Show everyone how it’s done.”

Amir makes a big show of turning in his signed permission slip, climbing onstage, and introducing himself. Fatima slumps farther into her seat, but I think it’s sweet. If I was auditioning for the first time, I would appreciate someone showing me what to do.

Amir gives the audience a half-smile, then rolls his shoulders back and closes his eyes. When he opens them again, it’s like he’s transformed into a different person. I don’t understand much of the monologue, but a quick glance at Mr. Bryant tells me it’s really good. Then, after another roll of the shoulders, Amir launches into his song. I don’t have to be an expert to know his voice is spectacular.

“I think I’m in love with your brother.” Elise gazes longingly at Amir as he exits the stage.

“Nope. No. Absolutely not.” Fatima shakes her head. “That is unacceptable.”

“Not as, like, a boyfriend,” Elise says. “But as an artist. I’m in love with his talent.”

“Yeah, that doesn’t make it less weird,” Fatima says, laughing.

I laugh, too, but I get what Elise means. If she’s a level three theater kid, Amir is a level ten. He’s devoted his life to making it to Broadway, and I think he’s talented enough to do it. People from other parts of Minneapolis come to our shows just to see him perform. He’s that good.

After Amir, the auditions get less interesting. Naomi Smith and Adeline Davis—both contenders for the lead role of Maria—sing the exact same song from The King and I, which causes a bit of whispering. Robert Zhang sings a mashup of two Ariana Grande songs. It’s totally unexpected but kinda amazing. And two little girls named Riya and Sara perform an adorable song and dance routine to “You Are My Sunshine.”

There is one kid who stands out—a newcomer named Micah, who introduces himself with an unsteady smile. Boys are rare in youth theater, but there’s something extra special about Micah. When he performs his song from James and the Giant Peach, I feel like he’s singing directly to me, Shannon Carter, in the twelfth row of the auditorium. Micah finishes with an awkward bow and jogs back down the aisle. This time, his grin is confident, and I look away before he notices me staring.

As the auditions continue, Elise’s legs shake more and more violently. Her permission slip is clutched in one fist while the other hand grips the armrest so tightly her knuckles turn white. Fatima and I say reassuring things, but nothing calms her nerves. Finally, after what feels like a hundred auditions, it’s Elise’s turn.

“And last, but certainly not least, Elise Hoffman!” Mr. Bryant’s voice booms from the back of the near-empty auditorium.

“Is it bad to be last?” Elise whispers as she stands up.

“Don’t worry,” I say. “You’ve got this.”

Then, in my own little ritual, I tap each elbow three times. I don’t know when I started the elbow tapping, but it’s something I’ve always done for good luck. I wouldn’t call myself a superstitious person. It’s more like an extra precaution. If Elise doesn’t get cast, I don’t want to feel like it’s my fault because I didn’t tap my elbows.

Amir whoops from the catwalk as Elise takes center stage. I had no idea he was up there, but Elise looks up and smiles. Her short hair, which she recently dyed bright purple, shines under the stage lights, and her maroon lipstick is a stark contrast against her fair skin. She rolls her shoulders a few times, like Amir always does, then begins her audition.

Fatima and I nod at each other in approval when Elise finishes her monologue. She didn’t forget any lines or stumble over her words, which is usually her biggest obstacle. For her musical selection, Elise chose a sweet song called “The Girl I Mean to Be.” I’ve been listening to her practice all week, but she’s shakier than usual and her voice sounds strained. Fatima frowns at me and raises one eyebrow. I shrug in response. It isn’t the greatest performance ever, but Mr. Bryant has known Elise for years. It’s not like this is his first impression.

I give Elise an overly cheery thumbs-up, but she returns to her seat and buries her head in her arms. “That was so bad,” she says. “I don’t know what happened. I totally sucked. I can do so much better.”

Fatima and I are used to Elise’s postaudition dramatics, but it’s hard to be comforting when I kinda agree with her. Not about the sucking, obviously, but about it not being her best.

“I thought you were amazing,” I say. “Seriously, I know you’re worried about the song, but the monologue was so good.”

Elise moans.

“Shannon’s right,” Fatima says. “And there are so many good parts in this show.”

I make a face at Fatima. Elise has her heart set on being Brigitta, the middle von Trapp girl, so I’m not sure this is the best way to boost her confidence. But Fatima pushes forward.

“There are so many von Trapp kids,” she says. “Or you could be a nun! You know they have the best singing parts.”

“I guess.” Elise sounds doubtful, but she lifts her head.

“Yeah, the nuns start the whole show,” I say. “You know, like, ‘How do you solve a problem like Maria?’?” I sing in a high-pitched, melodramatic voice like the woman in the movie version.

Fatima joins in. “How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?” She’s singing a full octave lower than me, and we must sound terrible together. But our enthusiasm is contagious.

Amir appears behind us and sings the next line. Then Robert Zhang jumps in. And Naomi and Adeline. Soon, Elise is sitting and laughing and singing with the rest of us. More kids join, and Amir starts conducting with his hands, motioning for each of us to sing different lines in turn. When we reach the end, Amir points to me and I belt out the last line of the song as Naomi harmonizes.

“Who was that singing?” Mr. Bryant’s loud voice startles me out of my giddiness. I had completely forgotten he was here.

“What did you say?” Amir yells back.

“Who sang the last line of the song?”

“That was Shannon,” Fatima answers for me.

“Um, sorry we were loud,” I say. “I . . . I thought auditions were over.” My cheeks are hot and I’m stammering, but I can’t help it. I feel anxious just thinking about someone being mad at me.

“Auditions were over. They’re not anymore.” Mr. Bryant emerges from the shadows and walks toward our little group.

“What are you talking about?” Amir asks. “Elise was our last person. I double-checked the sign-ups.”

“What I’m talking about is you, Shannon Carter.” Mr. Bryant points at me. “You were singing just now?”

I nod.

“Well, then.” A smile tugs at the corner of his mouth. “Get up onstage. Because I am not leaving until you audition for the musical.”


I’ve been onstage before. Obviously.

I spend most of each summer on this stage, painting sets and playing improv games and listening to Mr. Bryant’s motivational speeches. I even slept onstage once last year during a cast sleepover. But I’ve never been onstage like this.

With the lights shining so brightly I can only see the first two rows of the audience.

With everyone in the room watching me, waiting for me to act or sing or faint.

“I really don’t sing.” I hold up my hand to block the light, but I still can’t see anybody.

“That’s clearly untrue.” Mr. Bryant’s voice is confident. “You were singing mere moments ago.”

“We were playing around,” I say.

“Ah, play! The foundation of all theatrical endeavors.”

I don’t know how to respond, so I stay silent. I may not be able to see my friends, but I can feel their eyes. Are they angry with me? I know Fatima wanted me to audition, but we belong in the costume closet together, searching for hidden treasures and singing along to the radio. And Elise can’t be happy to have more competition, especially after her disastrous performance.

Except you’re not her competition, I remind myself. You’re a techie. You’re not supposed to be here.

“I’m not an actor,” I say finally.

“Anyone can be an actor,” I hear Amir say.

“Shh, don’t make her nervous,” Fatima whispers.

I’m getting overheated, but I can’t tell if it’s the lights or the pressure of standing onstage by myself. I shove a hand into my shorts pocket and grab my ChapStick. I apply three even coats, then smack my lips three times. I start to put the little tube away, but my lips suddenly feel dry again. I repeat the ritual. Three and three.

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