Sunday, July 8

Dream Factory

by Brad Barkley and Heather Kepler
Dutton 2007

The "fur" characters (including those not wearing fur, like princesses) have gone on strike at Disney World in Florida at the beginning of the summer. This forces the Disney folks to hire scab labor to fill in so that vacationers can continue to enjoy "The Happiest Place on Earth" without the ugly bits of the outside world creeping in. But this book isn't about any of that.

Instead, the story follows the recent high school graduates who have answered the call to replace the striking workers, kids with little conscience about being scabs with loftier problems like what to major in at college and what to do with the rest of their lives. And even then this book isn't really much about that.

This book is could easily be called Summer at Camp Disney with a good dose of typical high school shenanigans and petty teen behavior and, naturally, mismatched lovers. While the contract negotiations continue these kids are housed dorm-style in a commandeered hotel and are quickly thrown into a prelude of what college is like while dipping into all the experiences corporate life has to offer. There are morning meetings and rules and regulations and even some team-building exercises designed to bring the couldn't-care-less rabble in with the party line in the House of the Mouse.

And at it's core, it's a teen romantic comedy stacking a heartbroken Cinder Ella and her second generation Disney geek Prince Mark Charming against Chip-n-Dale mates, the Uber-Achieving triple-major snob Cassie and her killing-time-before-inheriting-the-corner-office flounder Luke.

If you need help drawing a line between points A and B on a map explaining what Luke's Star Wars geek parents gave him as a middle name (beginning with the letter S) then perhaps you will find the narrative full of surprises. That could be said about much of the book, where so much information is parceled out over long stretches in ways that might insult quicker readers. Do we really need the protracted mating dance that takes place between all these characters? In a word, yes, because that's the way the book is structured.

Told in alternating viewpoints, chapters narrated by Luke and Ella, the plot chugs along more or less linearly and yet each time we switch viewpoints there is the strange sensation we've read it all before. It's as if in one character's telling of event we can guess what the other would think/feel/do so that when it happens there's a sense of deja vu. The device of giving Ella and Luke their own voice essentially doubles the time it would take to tell the same information from an omniscient viewpoint. Sad, really, because there's still a fun little story trapped inside this ping pong plot.

Ella's lost her brother in an accident and she's still processing that information when she gets word that her parents are pulling up roots to go work on a mission overseas. Ella is shuttled off to live with an aunt in Florida until the fall when she's supposed to start college in Vermont. Adrift and on her own she jumps at the opportunity to work at Disney World just to keep herself busy.

Luke's problem is that he's got the corner office at his father's company all sewn up, but he doesn't want it. In fact, he doesn't know what he wants because all his life he's been seen as the prodigal son destined for the corner office. While everyone else would kill to have that kind of security (like his fellow fur crush Cassie, who has her eyes on being the wife of the guy in the corner office) all Luke wonders is what it would be like to be free.

Luke and Cassie are already an item when Ella waltzes into the picture. What attracts Luke to Ella is her ability to question and seek out answers about life's larger questions, a natural effect in the wake of becoming unmoored from her family. When Mark does a last minute fill-in for an injured Prince Charming it becomes obvious to all her friends that perhaps Ella has finally landed her prince.

A team-building scavenger hunt designed to make the scab employees more knowledgeable about the park pairs competitive Cassie with Mark, whose father worked the park as a young man himself and is by virtue the person to beat when it comes to Disney trivia. Luke and Ella make a go of it as teammates but the awkwardness of their feelings for one another, the fact that they are otherwise engaged in relationships, and an undertow of petty jealousies pushes and pulls against them.

Everyone can see that Luke and Ella are destined for one another and all that remains is whether or not they can muster the effort to make it happen before the end of the book.

I could take or leave this book -- the formula is strictly Disney Channel Original Movie. That said the thing that truly irks me about this book is the cover. Why go through the trouble of telling a book from two viewpoints and then deliberately cut the potential readership in half by making the cover pink. Yeah, technically this is Chick Lit, but it doesn't have to be and there's no reason to automatically assume a male reader wouldn't want to pick this up because it happened to partly deal with relationships. I'll grant you, using Disney by name throughout the book could render some problems with the art department being able to use copyrighted material on the cover, but is this really the way to go, is this really the best you could do, Dutton?

Let me answer that: No. Sell the story, don't sell genre.

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