Because Linda Rockstroh, the author of this charming and clever little book taught me English in high school, I take particular pleasure in offering a review of it. As you will doubtlessly infer from the synopsis and, injunctions against the practice aside, the cover of the book, this is a mystery story conceived and written for younger readers.
That said, and because I am a teacher who focuses on issues of basic literacy, if I taught younger children—8-to -12-year old kids are probably this book’s intended audience—I would buy 40 copies of this book posthaste for use in my classroom.
Conventionally, this is a mystery. The ten-year-old protagonist, Holly Stone, aka the Holly Hollywood of the title, moves from Hollywood, California to the small town of Lebanon, Indiana. There she immediately and more or less simultaneously becomes involved in two new friendships—which earn her the “Hollywood” moniker—and a mystery. You’ll need to buy the book to resolve the mystery because I find synopsizing an annoying exercise that too easily gives up spoilers.
What I can tell you about this book is that although it is a genre (again: mystery) story, it nicely incorporates some vocabulary-building devices that I think any teacher or parent will welcome. One such technique is as simple as it is elegant. Because Holly is a budding cinematographer, each chapter is titled with a term of art from the world of film production. Ms. Rockstroh—a filmmaker herself, incidentally—underwrites each chapter heading with a brief and edifying definition of the named term, which is a difficult balance to achieve. She also uses Holly’s internal dialogue to define appositively the words she uses in the dialogue. For example, on page 14, Holly, who speaks to the reader in the first person, relates that obsession is her “new favorite word” and defines that abstract noun as “…something you’re hung up on and can’t get out of your head.” That’s a tried and true strategy for vocabulary building, but also tricky. As you can see, it’s done well in this book. However, it doesn’t take too many uses of this device for it to become tedious. In the hands of this author, happily, no such overuse occurs here.
Another fictional device that is stock in mysteries is the cliffhanger at the end of a chapter. This is another technique used with just about perfect restraint in this book; again, my own tendency would be to yield to this strategy because of its ease, and write a book characterized by the tedium of its chapter conclusions. Again, you’ll no such excess in this novel.
One of the great sins, in my estimation, that writers commit when producing material for children is writing overly precocious characters. One sees in this in family-oriented situation comedies: a child makes an ambiguous, often ribald remark which canned laughter then backstops. That’s a precious affectation, usually inauthentic and insincere, and mostly annoying and off-putting. Ms. Rockstroh commits no such errors of literary judgement in her book. That makes Holly Hollywood a relatable and genuine character for young people reading this book or for educators designing lessons around it.
At the price for which this book was on offer at Amazon when I bought it ($5.99 in early April of 2019), this book is a great value and therefore well worth a chance. Even at full retail (I assume a corporate publishing house would charge between eight and fifteen bucks for a book this size) this book provides great value for parents and their children–who will all but certainly enjoy it.