Una LaMarche is a tricky author. I loved her novel Like No Other, about a Hasidic teen growing up in Brooklyn, but I didn’t like the books she published after it. They lacked the electricity of her first novel. When I heard about her newest novel, in the vein of Fame , I was a little worried. It could be a great novel about teens at a performing arts school or, it could continue her string of lackluster stories.
From page one, the narration style in You in Five Acts catches you off guard. Divided into six sections (acts and an intermission) Una LaMarche’s fourth novel follows Joy, Diego, Liv, Ethan, and Dave. The novel is in first person, but each character has a “you”, usually a love interest. This was hard to get used to at first, but by page 50, you’ll get the hang of it.
Each character is a performer in his or her own way. Joy is a black ballerina, struggling to find a place in a world where 1 out of 1,086 primas are African-American. Diego is a star plucked from inner city poverty – if he doesn’t get chosen by a company it’s back to the family bodega. Liv is a rich girl, high on life… and some prescriptions too. Ethan is a Staten Islander (read: an outer borough New Yorker) who’s finally getting some attention from the girl he’s pined after since the beginning of time. Then there’s Dave- who most likely peaked at 7 when he starred in a blockbuster movie. In their last year of high school, all their stories intertwine. Some of their ends are predictable, others catch you off guard.
Una LaMarche writes best about New York City. Her other books were set elsewhere, and were not successful. Like No Other, which takes place in Crown Heights, and You in Five Acts, which takes place in Manhattan are both excellent works. The way she writes her characters makes them seem strangely familiar to you- like you may have been seated next to one of them on the subway this morning.
You in Five Acts was certainly strong, a compelling story about teenagers in the big city. It would have been great, had it not been for the ending. It was clear throughout the book a character would die in the end, but when a character does eventually die, the scene seems contrived. LaMarche is making a political statement- a very important one, but not very convincingly written. This statement also seems rather out of place with the rest of the storyline. You in Five Acts is not bad, but it pales in comparison to Like No Other. If you truly want an exceptional book about teenagers at an elite performing arts school in New York, I suggest Tiny Pretty Things by Dhonielle Clayton and Sona Charaipotra.