**I received a copy of this book from Xpresso Book Tours for promotional purposes in exchange for an honest review.**
Center Stage! by Caitlyn Duffy
(Center Stage!, #1)
Published: September 14th, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Young Adult
Trigger Warnings: Passing reference to an eating disorder, but it’s extremely minor
Allison Burch’s wildest dream is to become a famous singer. She can hardly believe her own good luck when she auditions for the reality television singing competition, Center Stage!, and is chosen as a contestant. She finally has a legitimate shot at fame, fortune, and a chance to go on tour as the opening act for her favorite boy band on their world tour.
However, Allison wasn’t counting on one of the celebrity coaches being Chase Atwood, the famous rock star father of her former best friend. Allison’s terrified that Chase is going to find out that she and his daughter have been in a fight for months, and it’ll ruin her shot at the grand prize. Making matters worse, Allison’s own coach, Country Western star Nelly Fulsom, intends to groom her into a Nashville superstar.
As Allison struggles to decide if she really wants to win on the show if it’s by resorting to dirty tricks and assuming the image that Nelly wants to create for her, she find herself falling hard for her biggest competition on the show: a brooding songwriter named Elliott Mercer. She’s not sure if Elliott’s interest in her is genuine, or if he’s just playing along with the producers’ strategy.
It’s up to Allison to decide: how much is she willing to lose in order to win?
Fans of Caitlyn Duffy’s The Rock Star’s Daughter will enjoy this tale about Taylor’s friend Allison and her journey to fame.
Caitlyn Duffy is a private boarding school survivor and the author of The Treadwell Academy Novels, a series about privileged girls in an elite boarding school setting and the challenges they face. The series addresses issues common to teen readers including eating disorders, divorce, grief, heartbreak, first love, drug addiction and disagreements with parents. It was Caitlyn’s dream to create a series that mixed glamour and celebrity with the real-life problems that kids endure that could be enjoyed by readers of all ages. Her writing experience includes freelance editing for publishing houses and copywriting in the advertising industry.
When she’s not writing about the girls of Treadwell, she’s walking her semi-famous dog Maxim around Park Slope, Brooklyn and drinking too much coffee.
Don’t you dare lie to yourself and say that, at one point, the thought has never crossed your mind about joining the cast of one of the menagerie of talent-based reality shows to catapult yourself to instant stardom. Most people have thought about it, at least once. As far as Allison Burch is concerned, she’s gone out and lived the fantasy for us through the events of Caitlyn Duffy’s Center Stage! Even though Allison’s journey is a fun — and well-written — one to behold, there were certain points within its pages that kept me scratching my head at the reality of a majority of the characters and other various situations that didn’t really seem to make sense.
Center Stage! serves as one of a myriad books by Duffy all set in the same universe; it can be read as a standalone, but one might be better off reading the other books in the series somewhere along the way. Sixteen-year-old high school junior Allison Burch is sick and tired of getting through life just by being average. However, she’s been heavily hiding her secret talent of singing from her friends and family. After a fight with her best friend, Taylor, Allison takes it upon herself to sign up for Center Stage! (better known as The Voice in real life) to try her hand at being a little bit more than average. Once on the show, Allison’s life starts to go in directions she never anticipated.
Something I’ve been struggling with lately with the books I’ve been reading is that they just take so long to get into. With Center Stage!, luckily, I didn’t have to worry about that. From page one, I found myself interested in the story that started to unfold between Allison and those around her. After the prologue, readers are dropped directly into the moments before Allison’s audition for the show; Duffy pulls no punches in letting us know that she’s somehow gathered up the courage to do this. While the premise had definitely one of those “too good to be true” kind of situations, I had to step out of my overly-critical shell and realize that, hey, this is fiction — time to suspend disbelief. I felt like the reality show was a good platform to introduce a coming of age story, since it took Allison directly out of her comfort zones of home, school, and best friends to allow her to really develop as an individual. It’s fun to watch her grow from this slacker with zero self-confidence then blossom into a young woman with a passion for her art. With each passing challenge she faces over the course of the show, it really did feel like these were the choices any average teenage girl would make when thrown to the lions for the first time.
Of course, the development and redemption really only happen for our main character, which I find to be quite irritating. She’s not the only person going through the struggle of Center Stage!, yet Allison is the only character that seems to do major growing over the course of the novel. Granted, her romantic interest, Elliott, has some moments where we learn more about his sordid familial history, but I don’t really think that Duffy has set a specific character arc for him. Furthermore, when it came to Elliott, all Allison could focus on was his beautiful turquoise eyes. This one particular aspect of his physical appearance came up every single time he was mentioned, similar to Bella Swan’s comparisons of Edward to a Greek statue in Twilight. The readers understand that yes, okay, he’s a beautiful scruffy hunk of a hipster, but it’s condescending to us to have to repeat it twenty or thirty times through the text. Allison and Elliott’s relationship doesn’t really make sense at times, either. It wasn’t too long ago that I was a teenager, and I would never just blow someone off without giving them a reason. (In my adulthood, however, that’s a different story.) There comes a point between the two rising stars in which they just don’t speak after they have a heated kiss in a stairwell during a fire alarm? I actually had to go back and read the section again later in the story because this particular scene is referenced further on, but it seemed inconsistent with the way I remembered it — and it was. Of course, I don’t want to spoil too much, but these are little things that could have been caught during the editing process.
Speaking of inconsistencies, I didn’t feel like the plot points and characterizations of some of the minor characters made too much sense, either. For example, there’s this huge blow-out between Allison and Taylor that is mentioned throughout certain places in the book, but we never learn exactly what was said in the argument, when specifically the argument happened, or really why it happened in the first place. All the readers are told is that they had a fight, Taylor went back to her boarding school, and that was it. I don’t know if it’s mentioned within Duffy’s other series that focuses on Taylor or what, but if a fight so significant that emotionally affects the main character in this novel, then the readers should be told what happened, not left to speculate. Furthermore, plot lines with Taylor’s other friends from school are picked up and dropped off a cliff: the potential drama between Allison and Lee now that Elliott’s in the picture, Nicole’s jealousy of Allison for appearing on the show, how Taylor manages to juggle school life post-television (as there is an epilogue that covers other details).
Even though this certainly wasn’t the most groundbreaking thing I’ve read this year, there’s no denying that Center Stage! does exactly what I’d expect out of the average contemporary romance: tell a fun, entertaining story that takes me out of thinking about my problems for a little while. I enjoyed the fish out of water element with placing a teenager within the restrictions of reality television — and oh, do I love reality tv — and thought Duffy did good work in developing her main character. However, there were some pieces with plot holes and inconsistencies with characters that weren’t Allison that held this book back from being great. There are plenty of loose ends, though, that just might leave me intrigued enough to read the inevitable sequel.
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