(Note: This review contains some spoilers.)
Sixteen-year-old Madeleine Faith Prescott has a passion for musical theater and a dream of singing on Broadway, but not many people with whom she can share them. Her friends aren’t interested. And her parents are worse than uninterested — they actively discourage her love of theater. The Prescotts are a family who prefer sports to the arts, and prefer a good solid moneymaking career above all else.
Then Faith runs into Noah, a fellow aspiring actor, and feels the thrill of finally meeting someone who gets it. When both of them win roles in a community production of “The Sound of Music,” they’re frequently thrown together, and friendship soon blossoms into something more. Besides that, Noah is a devout Christian, and getting to know him inspires Faith to move beyond her own nominal Christianity and start engaging in serious Bible study and prayer.
But just when Faith’s life seems to be going better than it ever has, things reach a boiling point at home, and she’s forced to decide what truly matters to her and what she’ll do to achieve it.
Serena Chase’s “Intermission” is a story that all kinds of teens, not just theater lovers, can appreciate and enjoy. It’s about a girl with dreams that look impractical if not impossible, with the grit and patience to make them come true. Though Faith often expresses herself as dramatically as you might expect of a stagestruck teenager, she’s an easy person to like — strong, determined, and warmhearted. Noah too is a winsome and admirable character.
The depictions of Faith’s family are more complex and difficult to handle. The story, so often light and fun, starts to darken as Faith’s mother goes from strict, to controlling, to abusive.
Faith and Noah, as Christians, are committed to not going beyond kissing, and they usually do their best to abide by Faith’s parents’ expectations and rules in general. When they do feel they’ve done something wrong — committing lies of omission about seeing each other, for instance — they make an effort to confess and put it right.
But Faith’s mother refuses to believe her denials of sexual activity, and knocks Faith to the floor during an argument over it. (It doesn’t help that Faith’s sexually experienced older sister, Gretchen, didn’t believe her either and insisted on putting a condom in Faith’s bag, where it was later discovered by a friend’s mother.)
There is a significant age difference between Faith and Noah — she’s 16, he’s 19 — and the story takes this seriously, unlike so many other contemporary teen romances. While emphasizing their strong feelings for each other, Chase doesn’t downplay the problem of their ages, and doesn’t show Faith’s parents as wrong to be concerned about it. Where her mother does go wrong is distrusting Faith simply because of her artistic nature, holding her to far higher standards than her siblings, and refusing to meet her halfway on anything, even though Faith tries to be obedient. Though their relationship breaks down so badly that Faith finally has to move to her grandmother’s house, their story doesn’t end there, and Chase gives appropriate weight to the issue of abuse while still holding out the hope of forgiveness and reconciliation. (As for other content issues, the only profanity consists of one or two mild expressions like “hella cute.”)
“Intermission” is ultimately a hopeful story in many ways. It’s realistic about the challenges teenagers face, but optimistic about their chances of surviving and even thriving. It works Christian faith naturally into the story without making it feel strained or forced. A lot of stereotypes come up over the course of the story — all teens are having sex, all boys who love theater are gay, faith and show business aren’t compatible — only to be debunked by a writer who dares to follow a different path and tell a different tale. It’s a tale worth telling, about young people whom readers will be glad to spend time with.
Image copyright Candent Gate LLC. Review copy obtained from the author.