Ever wonder what it’s like to be on a reality competition like “American Idol”? What if it were a show for child performers? What would their lives look like? Author Nan Marino brings us the story of Elvis Ruby, an 11-year-old boy who, after becoming the most popular contestant on “Tween Star,” freezes on stage during his final performance. To escape the paparazzi and have some quiet time to heal, Elvis’ father takes him to the remote town of Wares Grove, in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens, where he can “hide out” with his aunt and cousin, who own a local restaurant. Marino deftly draws a character who loves music and performing but needs something more in his life.

Cecilia Wreel lives in Wares Grove and is content, mostly, with her life and where she is—except that she wants to hear a particular song that no one can find. When she figures out early on who Elvis really is, she is not especially impressed with his fame, but she recognizes that he might be able to help her find the music. Elvis must learn to trust her, and others, while he figures out what kind of person he wants to be.

Marino has written a simple but beautiful story about love and honesty, music and acceptance. She includes the legend of the Pine Barrens’ “Jersey Devil” between chapters, using it to illustrate how the negative opinions of others should not define who you are. Her prose is accessible and genuine and moves the plot along at a perfect pace. Whether they have visions of being a star, like Elvis, or think they have no talent, like Cecilia, young readers will be drawn to this sympathetic account of the struggles of being a tween.

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