________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 20. . . .January 29, 2016


Upstaged. (Orca Limelights).

Patricia McCowan.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2016.
143 pp., trade pbk., pdf & epub, $9.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4598-1004-4 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4598-1005-1 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-4598-1006-8 (epub).

Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.

Review by Mary Harelkin Bishop.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



I’m singing ‘Tomorrow’ for three strangers. My voice vibrates in my chest, in my head. I stick out my chin when the song tells me to. I grin. It’s hard to grin and sing. Behind the table, Drew Carrier leans forward on his elbows. The leggy choreographer – she was introduced, but I’ve already forgotten her name – squints. Am I hurting her ears? Renée Felix reclines away from the other two, looking artistic director ish.

On my next quick breath, I glance to my right to Gregor at the piano. He’s cheery and attentive for cues. Sandy the dog to my Annie.

I forgot how quickly “Tomorrow” goes by. But at least I’ve remembered the words.

I take a huge breath to propel into the song’s wide open, optimistic finish. I hit the last big note hang on and hold it – “aaa waaaayy” – then wrap it up with what I hope is my best downtrodden but still hopeful expression: You have to adopt me. I’m adorable! Gregor’s hands spring off the keyboard in a final flourish. I can practically hear the applause.

Except there is none.


For high schooler, Ellie, the move to the big city of Toronto has not been wonderful as promised. She misses her small town, her best friend, Cassidy, and her high school. Most of all, she leaves behind a legacy of drama and musical productions in which she has always been the star. Her talent is such that she has never had to audition. The drama teacher, Mrs. Mowat, knows Ellie is the best, and she is always cast in the leading role without going through the audition process.

     Ellie and her father have moved to Toronto to enhance his career as a television show host, and he is happy and excited about his new job. Ellie, on the other hand, is not sure Toronto is the place for her, especially since her budding career as a stage performer seems to be over. Then her father interviews Renée, the artistic director from a local youth drama theatre. Renée promotes the theatre company and then announces dates for auditions. Even though she has never had to audition before, Ellie decides to give it a try. She lands a fairly big role in the production, that of Piper, but she has to share it with another young actress, Marissa. Ellie is not sure this is going to work, especially since she and Marissa have already gotten off on the wrong foot. Ellie knows that she just has to show the producer that she’s the best for the role, and maybe she can be allowed to take over Marissa’s part as well.

     Ellie is an interesting and fallible character, and this makes for a good read. At the beginning of the story, riding on the coat tails of her past, well received success as the star of many productions, she is haughty, over confident and snobbish. Ellie treats her counterpart, Marissa, as a rival and is critical of how Marissa portrays Piper. As the cast rehearses over the weeks, Ellie struggles in working with Marissa, even though many of her new friends seem to like and respect Marissa a lot. Ellie makes the mistake of gossiping about and being critical of Marissa to other actors and almost loses her new friends. As the story progresses, through many plot twists and turns, Ellie gains respect for Marissa. Ellie realizes that she has not been fair in her judgement of Marissa. Ellie also realizes that she has learned something from Marissa.

     The majority of this story takes place at rehearsals and in the theatre as Ellie interacts with other characters. Her father plays a minor role, as does her best friend, Cassidy. Ellie and Cassidy communicate by text and Skype on a frequent basis. Ellie’ father and Cassidy help to give the reader a broader perspective of Ellie’s character. It is interesting that Ellie’s mother is never mentioned in the story. One thing I wondered, as I read the book, is whatever became of Ellie’s mother. A little information about the mother would have provided this reader a little more background to Ellie.

     The plot of the novel moves along well and follows the natural rhythm of life in a theatre company, beginning with the nerves and stress of auditions, the selection of roles, and the many hours of rehearsals leading up to the premier night.

     Upstaged is another title in the “Orca Limelights” series. The series publishes stories with performance themes which are written with simplified at level vocabulary but with enough action and drama to keep the story interesting. Upstaged fits this series and is a good read with strong and interesting characters who learn and grow from their mistakes. The quick moving plot keeps the story interesting and gives the reader a realistic glimpse into the world of the theatre.


Mary Harelkin Bishop is the author of the “Tunnels of Moose Jaw Adventure” series published by Coteau. She has also published a biography about Canadian Paralympic Champion Colette Bourgonje entitled Moving Forward and a picture book version called Gina’s Wheels. Currently she is an Instructional Consultant for Saskatoon Public Schools.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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