“What color is pandemonium? It sounds yellow.”
~BERTIE, EYES LIKE STARS
The Théâtre Illuminata is a vibrant and fantastic setting; a working theater with very special players. See the characters onstage aren't your normal folks in costumes who go out for drinks in running shoes and tank tops afterwards. At this theater, every character ever written into existence by a human playwright really does exist. They are self aware that they are characters, somewhere between real and not real within the theater's walls, called into existence by scene changes and notes pinned to the call board. It's a theater lover's dream setting, rife with familiar puns and quotes, with all the characters you've fallen in love with as something more than names on paper. The théâtre is a complex place, and you have to be patient and willing to learn about it slowly as you follow the characters directly into performance and the storyline, but as someone who isn't extremely knowledgeable in theatre, I can say it wasn't that hard to keep up.
Beatrice Shakespeare Smith, more commonly referred to as Bertie is the one thing out of place in the theater. She is not a player, but a ward, taken in when she was left outside as an infant. It can be said that Bertie did not have a traditional upbringing. Could you envision a girl growing up surrounded by characters meant to dramatize the human condition for entertainment NOT being a bit dramatic herself? To me, Bertie is a delightfully complex character. I like a heroine who makes me want to motherly chastise her now and again, one who makes me disagree with her decisions and challenges me. In my mind that's where the vibrancy of a character comes in, though with Bertie's blue hair she probably doesn't need that much help. She is very child-like in some senses, rebellious, curious, quirkily artistic and witty. Her best friends are the fairies from A Midsummer Night's Dream, mischievous and making me laugh out loud more than once. The humor in this book is fast paced and subtle at times; this is not a quick read or something you can follow while distracted. You have to be prepared to fully immerse yourself in this world.
Now normally I get most excited when I talk about the characters in a story, and don't get me wrong I do love everyone in EYES LIKE STARS. Nate is a pirate from The Little Mermaid, Ariel is an airy spirit from The Tempest, and the burgeoning love triangle in this story doesn't grate on my nerves the way a lot of them do. That's probably because love and Bertie's relationships with the other characters, while important, are really part of the scenery. What this story is, down at its ink and paper roots, is a tale about a girl who has grown up surrounded by vibrant characters and has struggled to find her own sense of self. This is her show, her journey to grow into herself and realize the potential she has to write her own pathways into existence. I will never ever tire of reading stories with that goal, and I have never read one that does it in the same way as this.
See, the thing I found most enchanting about this book is the way Mantchev brought theatre into the story in more than one format. There are books within the book, moments where the format changes to that of a script as Bertie writes her life out in the manner that she is most accustomed to. I found that utterly fascinating, something that kept my interest on the page, and also perhaps made Bertie's character stand out more. It's a big sign of who she is as a person, her essence if you will. She has learned to best understand and/or question the world around her by writing it down into dialogue and scene cues. Essentially any moment where the format of the story changes is a moment where the reader is being taken into Bertie's head for some intimate one on one time, a chance for us to the see the world through her eyes for a time. It's a creative way to go about it, and it was probably my favorite part of the book.
If you love theatre, characters that are rife with the human condition (good and annoying aspects), a colorful plot arc and a setting that lends to the fantasy aspect of the story beautifully, then EYES LIKE STARS by Lisa Mantchev is a book I'd recommend to you.