Serena Chase’s INTERMISSION and Remembering the Old Versions of Ourselves
Faith Prescott is sixteen years old and in love…with musical theater. Even though her parents and siblings are hard-charging people who have degrees in “real” pursuits, Faith wants to major in theater. Life gets even more complicated when Faith starts to have feelings for Noah, a powerful performer who, it turns out, is nineteen. No, the course of true love never did run smooth, and it certainly doesn’t for Faith (soon to use her middle name of Madeleine) and Noah.
I don’t want to ruin any of Serena Chase‘s plot twists, but I’m sure you can guess most of the beats in the story of Intermission. Girl falls in love with older boy, girl and boy star in The Sound of Music together, girl tries to be just friends with older boy, girl’s mom is not happy about older boy…you get the drift. Faith/Madeleine, like Liesl Von Trapp, is at that wonderful age where society and your parents treat you like a child, but you have the body, hormones and desires of an adult.
The book is a lot of fun and the characters are very solidly drawn. One of the things I like best about the book is that Ms. Chase makes such great drama out of problems that adults outgrew a long time ago. Ms. Chase was able to put aside her adulthood and maturity and to give her sixteen-year-old character the kind of problems a sixteen-year-old really has. This is not easy! I don’t know how old Ms. Chase is (nor is it my beeswax), but she isn’t sixteen. She’s had a lot of life experiences that blot out the day-to-day concerns of an adolescent.
But! This is YA we’re talking about. The author must be able to construct complications with heavy stakes that are appropriate to the character and their situation. The needs will change depending on the characters, genre, and plot, but the complications and the stakes must be appropriate. Madeleine is sixteen and wants to date a nineteen-year-old. Normal adults don’t think twice about a three-year age gap because who cares about 32 and 29? 45 and 42? 101 and 98? But when you’re sixteen and you like someone who isn’t even in high school anymore? That’s a big deal, both for you and your parent(s).
Remember keeping space between your body and that of your date during school dances?
Remember leaving your bedroom door open if you had an opposite-sex visitor? (As though the open door would completely prevent showtime…)
Remember doing the calculations to determine when you would graduate in comparison to the guy or gal you liked?
You have to remember these feelings if you want to write good YA. Ms. Chase gets these details right.
My first (and unpublished) YA novel was written for musical theater nerds, so I was frustrated to see the first blurb for Intermission. Jenny B. Jones said, “FINALLY someone has written a YA for all of us musical theater nerds!” I did, too! I just wasn’t good enough. Sigh. The point is that we must immerse our characters in their environment. It’s not enough for Madeleine and Noah to simply say that they love musical theater. They must talk about musicals and sing showtunes. And not just easy ones. They must be able to name some obscure musicals, just like the musical theater nerds you run into in the real world.
Ms. Chase organized Intermission in an interesting and valuable way. The book begins with a brief overture, followed by Act One, an intermission, an Entr’acte, followed by Act Two, then the final curtain and a curtain call. That’s right, Ms. Chase appropriated the structure of a musical to tell the story of these theater-mad characters. The form of a story should reflect its function. What kind of structure can you appropriate? The nine-inning structure of a baseball game? The theatrical, ritualistic structure of a Catholic Mass?
Let’s take a look at the beginning of the Overture and do some good, old-fashioned textual analysis:
We have a mention of Rodgers & Hammerstein. Good. This gets the musical theater motif going. But look what Ms. Chase does with the prose. Look at those tick-tick-ticks. Sure, they indicate the passage of time. But look at what else Ms. Chase does. She begins her novel about musicals with a rhythmic fanfare. Those ticks and thrum-bums remind you of a real theatrical overture, don’t they? Here’s an example:
Ms. Chase literally uses rhythm and sound in a musical manner to ease us into the novel, just as a composer employs these same tools to prepare you for the musical you’re about to see.
Intermission is a lot of fun and is very sweet and packs the requisite dramatic punch, particularly as Ms. Chase weaves Madeleine’s mother and siblings into the story. Whether you are currently a theater nerd or were one many, many years ago, the book will evoke memories, pleasant and not so pleasant.
Just for fun, here are some more overtures I like: