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Starring Arabelle    by Hillary Hall De Baun order for
Starring Arabelle
by Hillary Hall De Baun
Order:  USA  Can
Eerdmans, 2012 (2012)
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Starring Arabelle is a first-time novel for Hillary Hall De Baun, who has a hit with a working plot and great cast, especially the lovable, well-developed Arabelle Alexis Archer. Alex begins freshman year at James Madison Regional High School, determined to follow her aspirations and dreams of a theatrical future: 'She'll audition for the school play and soon be on her way to the stardom she knows is her destiny.'

Alex's intentions are slightly dashed, but not beaten, when she overhears an uppity upper-class student spout that no freshman has ever been given a role in the school plays. Faced with taunts from popular upper-class seniors, Alex soon learns to navigate the waters of awkward moments and verbal innuendoes as determination is her forte. Alex's inspirations come partly from reading fav heroines in novels including actress Deirdre Glendenning and famous ballerina Maria Tallchief.

Alex's practical, serious, long-time friend Erna Sue Comstock suggests that she volunteer for community service so that she can get into a good college. Alex is asked to volunteer at the Heavenly Rest Nursing Home. Though she agrees reluctantly, she develops unexpected attachments to some of the residents. Alex deduces that volunteerism just might strengthen her confidence.

In a heartwarming fashion, Arabelle becomes a star in her own right, while also learning that there is more to life than a starring role. Readers will relate as Alex muddles through some experiences while shining in others, while drama-club fans will enjoy the numerous cast scenes. A developing romantic interest, Student Council president Jeff Anderson, steals Alex's heart with unexpected support. And colorful scholarship student Boris from the Ukraine is being tutored by Erna in correct English language.

Hillary Hall De Baun writes in her bio: 'What I like best about writing books for young readers is the joy of creating funny stories and whimsical characters. I enjoy adolescents of all kinds ... What I most want to give readers, aside from quirky characters and laugh-out-loud adventure, is the feeling that the story could actually happen to them, that they could own the adventure and be a part of it.' She succeeds in this rewarding read about Arabelle Alexis Archer's trials, tribulations, joys and sorrows, all staunchly-faced and with a don't-ever-give-up, be-yourself theme.

Yes, I was rooting for Alex all the way, especially in her role as volunteer with lovable nursing home residents - like Mr. Wexler who speaks only two repetitive words: 'Help Me! Help Me!'; Mr. Rosen who forgets his clothes; once musical Mrs. Cushman, who now stares into space; and hard-of-hearing Mr. Huckabee - they all become Alex's strongest supporters and fans.

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