________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 3 . . . . September 18, 2015


Raising the Stakes. (Orca Limelights).

Trudee Romanek.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2015.
141 pp., trade pbk., pdf & epub, $9.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4598-0779-2 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4598-0780-8 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-4598-0781-5 (epub).

Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.

Review by Mary Harelkin Bishop.

** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



I spent most of today stomping around the house, grumbling to myself and slamming things. I'm so angry at my team, especially Asha. I can't believe she broke character and turned our make-believe scene into a real-life argument. Apparently, lots of people in the audience - like Grammy Ann and Ned - didn't even realize - but still. It breaks every improv rule - no, every performance rule there is!

After that awful scene ended, the eight of us sat like statues through the other teams' last events. None of my teammates would so much as look at me. They all disappeared into the crowd as soon as the final scores were announced.

Incredibly, we ended up third. Our team actually moves on to regionals, and maybe further. But nobody seems to care about that. Everyone, including Faith, managed to fit into the other cars to get home...

... I'm confused, and to be honest, I'm hurt. They really think I'm the ultimate villain? I can't believe Asha attacked me like that, and in competition, too! The thought of doing improv with her again...Let's just say I figure maybe it's time for me to try doing improv with some other people - real players who are serious about it, who care about getting it right.

Chloe's ambition to make a life-time career at improv is putting undue stress and pressure on herself and her high school improv team. It is also taking the fun out of improv for everyone. Once Chloe decides that her dream is to make a living at improv, she becomes critical and controlling of everyone on her team. Blinded by her own goals, she demands more practices for the team and tries to raise the stakes and chances of winning nationals by trying to change almost everything the team does, even what they do well. This makes everyone, including the teacher/coach Mr. J., feel uncomfortable and a little anxious around Chloe.

      Told in the first person, Raising the Stakes is part of the "Orca Limelights" series in which each book involves an aspect of the performing arts. In this book, the conflict is centred around Chloe's desire to do improv. Most of the plot is based on Chloe's inner conflict as she struggles with what she views as her teammates' indifference, her parents' concern over Chloe's choice of career, and her chances of making Nationals and being seen as a rising star in the world of improv. There is very little 'action' in the story and no subplot to carry the story forward. However, the author does a great job of describing the improv scenes and warm-up activities. This gives the reader a good understanding of how improv works and makes the story believable.

      The story revolves around Chloe, with the other characters all in the background. Much of the book involves Chloe reflecting about her team's practices and trying to figure out ways to improve. She spends a lot of time reading an improv book and trying to push the new ideas she gleans onto her teammates. The other characters play very small parts - in fact, her parents and brother, Ned, are rarely in the story. Chloe's improv team is mentioned and are in the improv scenes with Chloe, but, even after reading the book, I don't feel like I know them well. The character who seems most present in the story is Chloe's Grammy Ann, and she is a likeable and realistic character.

      Chloe is very single-minded, and the whole book is focussed on improv and Chloe's need to help the team improve. I found Chloe to be one-dimensional and not realistic. I felt there were very few glimpses of other parts of Chloe's life to help round out her character and make me care about her. Does she like school, for instance? How is she as a student? Does she struggle with Science? Does she have an important assignment that's due? What are her other interests? Does she play an instrument? Does she play volleyball or basketball on the school team? Does she have a friend who isn't on her improv team with whom she can share her thoughts? These are some of the things I wonder about Chloe. I found the narrow focus in her life unbelievable as other areas would certainly have an impact, be important and would have added to the plot.

      Although I did not warm up to Chloe and her friends, I did enjoy reading about improv. If the reader is interested in performing arts, and in improv in particular, Raising the Stakes would be a good book to build background knowledge and introduce the world of improv.

Recommended with Reservations.

Mary Harelkin Bishop is the author of eight books and is most well-known for the "Tunnels of Moose Jaw" time travel adventures. Her two most recent books are Moving Forward: The Journey of Paralympian Colette Bourgonje and Gina's Wheels. She is currently working for Saskatoon Public Schools as an Instructional Consultant.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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