Early Review: You Look Different in Real Life by Jennifer Castle

April 30, 2013 / 3 Comments / Review, Uncategorized

You Look Different in Real Life
Author: Jennifer Castle

Publisher: HarperTeen
Source: Digital ARC on Edelweiss
Publication Date: June 4, 2013
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

For the rest of the world, the movies are entertainment. For Justine, they’re real life.

The premise was simple: five kids, just living their lives. There’d be a new movie about them every five years, starting in kindergarten. But no one could have predicted what the cameras would capture. And no one could have predicted that Justine would be the star.

Now sixteen, Justine doesn’t feel like a star anymore. In fact, when she hears the crew has gotten the green light to film Five at Sixteen, all she feels is dread. The kids who shared the same table in kindergarten have become teenagers who hardly know one another. And Justine, who was so funny and edgy in the first two movies, feels like a disappointment.

But these teens have a bond that goes deeper than what’s on film. They’ve all shared the painful details of their lives with countless viewers. They all know how it feels to have fans as well as friends. So when this latest movie gives them the chance to reunite, Justine and her costars are going to take it. Because sometimes, the only way to see yourself is through someone else’s eyes.

Smart, fresh, and frequently funny, You Look Different in Real Life is a piercing novel about life in an age where the lines between what’s personal and what’s public aren’t always clear.


[I somehow thought this book was coming out in May, not June – sorry for the super-early review!]
Even though my schedule is totally packed with books to read, I couldn’t resist taking this one on because I loved the concept so much. And while it didn’t completely blow me away, You Look Different in Real Life is a solidly written, emotional novel that delves beautifully into teens whose lives were dramatically changed by being caught on camera – both in good and bad ways.

The story is that Justine, Rory, Felix, Keira, and Nate were all kids who were placed together at the same kindergarten table. Filmmakers Leslie and Larry captured them and their families at six years old, and then again at eleven for two documentary films called Five at Six and Five at Eleven. The families agreed that the kids would be filmed every five years until they were twenty-one. Now the kids are sixteen, and it’s time for the filmmakers to come again. But Five at Eleven tanked. And Justine’s not even sure she wants to be in the movie.

It’s fascinating to meet these kids and to try to figure out their story. Like with a documentary, the book skillfully masks certain pieces for dramatic effect. Why did the last movie, Five at Eleven, tank? What happened between Rory and Justine to make them not be friends? Between Felix and Nate? Are the filmmakers as unemotional and divorced from their subjects as we think?

This book actually reminded me a lot of a documentary about teens that I watched a couple of years ago, called American Teen. A lot of people questioned the realism of the “stories” and whether they actually happened or were manufactured. But unlike American Teen, You Look Different in Real Life addresses those questions of manufacturing reality head-on and finds a way to create a solution – and it’s pretty clever, and it’s totally right for the characters.

If I had a qualm about You Look Different in Real Life, I would say that it would be predictability. It’s not super predictable, but there are definitely a few storylines that you see coming. That said, those storylines are  so right for the character that you can forgive the fact that it’s not necessarily original.

Speaking of characters, I would say that this is a really great character story, and one that completely and totally delves into the voices and the actions of the teens. I’m finding it hard to describe the teens, because they are so much more than just one-line descriptions. The way that Jennifer Castle gently peels away the layers so that we see the history and the emotions of the characters is superb. In particular, Justine, the main character, becomes so much a part of the reader that you sometimes almost forget that she, too, has an arc. And the fact that this structure parallels the style of documentary filmmaking…well, brava, Ms. Castle. You got me.


Filmmaking 101: Some of you might know that a big part of my day job is shooting and editing documentary style videos for a living. So for me, the filmmaking aspect of the novel was pretty much my daily life, but it was refreshing to get to see it through the eyes of the subjects instead of the observer.

Self-discovery: Obviously, a book about documenting a person’s life is going to come up with some pretty deep and layered stuff about the people in the documentary. Some of the payoffs are pretty subtle and amazing.

Road trip: There isn’t a big road trip in this, but boy, does Jennifer Castle do a good job with the one that she has. The road trip is fun, unexpected, and it does just what it’s supposed to do: it changes everything.

The Final Word

I loved the concept of this book so much – and I’m glad to say that it delivered in creating a space for the amazing teens in this book to create and discover themselves. You Look Different in Real Life is a memorable, character-driven read that quietly and skillfully touches your heart and settles there. 

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3 responses to “Early Review: You Look Different in Real Life by Jennifer Castle

  1. I have only heard of this one once before, but it stuck with me. The premise is very interesting. And it sounds like it is a genuinely good book. I may have to check it out in June! No worries about the super early review! I don't mind at all!

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