Parents' Guide to

You Look Different in Real Life

By Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 13+

Gripping novel of kids filmed every five years for docu.

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Jennifer Castle doesn't shy away from hard topics, but You Look Different in Real Life is considerably lighter than her debut book, in which a teen girl loses her entire family in a car accident. Using the device of a documentary series (like the famous British 7 Up) to highlight how a group of kids have interacted since kindergarten, Castle is able to explore the dynamics of friendship and school life at ages 6, 11, and 16. Although the action takes place when the five documentary subjects are 16, there are plenty of flashbacks to the other two ages that shed light on why the kids are perceived a particular way. Felix, for example, the only full minority (he's Dominican), feels marginalized and ready for what he believes is his well-earned close-up in the newest documentary. While Nate, the son of the town's leading farming family, has completely changed his reputation from round-face bunny-loving bully victim to gorgeous swim star.

The three girls also have fascinating transformations and backstories. The novel's protagonist, Justine, had the most screen time in the second film, Five at 11, but she no longer feels she has much to contribute. She's worried about interacting with Rory, her former best friend, whom she dropped soon after his autism diagnosis, and she's suspicious of the relationship between Nate (whom she can't help but find attractive) and the beautiful Keira, whose mother abandoned her during the shoot five years earlier. In an age where so many teens engage in reality television and social media, You Look Different in Real Life captures the way leading a semi-public life (even just every five years) has deeply affected these teens who aren't always sure if they're acting for the cameras or being themselves. When everyone thinks they know you, how do you know yourself? In the end, each of the five kids has his or her moment in the spotlight (whether through tragedy, triumph, or both) and ends up the better for it.

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