Twelve-year-old June Olivia Cantrell—aka Junebug—is like many other tweens. She’s a dreamer, slightly insecure and she often feels invisible, especially next to her older drama queen sister, Stella. She’s not a leading lady . . . yet, but hey, one can always dream.

Junebug’s life has always revolved around the Blue Moon—the playhouse founded by her father. It’s a serious playhouse where, these days, tragedies rule the stage. But even though Junebug knows the show must go on, this summer is a little different than most. She’s finding herself, to quote the Chekhov play The Seagull up next at the Blue Moon, “in mourning for my life.”

Here’s how Junebug sees it—her parents are still happily married; she’s got the lead role in the Blue Moon’s latest production and she doesn’t have to worry about anyone getting in her space.

But here’s how it is—her parents are separated (with dad fawning over the new actress); she’s just a prop girl (albeit proudly taking her star turn as the unseen “thunder” in The Tempest) and now she’s got a young know-it-all kid—an understudy of sorts—following her around, learning the ropes.

Alas, alack—Junebug is not content to be simply a behind-the-scenes player, so she takes charge and speaks out, wondering “how you’re supposed to know when the acting stops and the real person begins.” Soon, an unexpected denouement has surprising results for Junebug, who comes a bit closer to matching her dreams with reality.

With chapters that open with Junebug’s dreamy visions, countered by her tragic-comic reality, the well-paced novel traces her summer of discontent. Age-appropriate dialogue and a likeable ensemble cast are set against a backdrop of the theater—creating a perfect stage for this tale of finding one’s way amid an unscripted life. Even reluctant readers will keep turning pages to see if all’s well that ends well.

Sharon Verbeten is a freelance writer and former children’s librarian who made her acting debut as a rock in a grade school play.

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