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Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Book Review: Child Star by Box Brown

Well this was different! Box Brown's books up to this point have all been nonfiction, and I really loved his books on Andre the Giant and Tetris. I knew this one would be great as I love his style and I also am a fan of pop culture from the 1970s and 1980s, which inspired this novel.

It is about a child star, a kid named Owen Eugene, who has a disability that keeps him very small (think Gary Coleman meets Emmanuel Lewis) so he's playing children much younger than his real age (although sometimes lying about his real age and seeming oddly precocious). He's in some commercials and then a TV show and then he breaks out! He has a catchphrase and toys and lunchboxes and everything! And it's great for a couple of years--during the summer hiatus he makes movies--but of course, it inevitably ends. He's no longer so cute, but he also doesn't physically grow up and can't play real adult roles, and his parents squandered a lot of his money. He cobbles together bit parts here and there, has a couple of strange sexless marriages, and then there's the inevitable end. The book is presented in documentary format as if it's interviews with his parents, his agents, co-stars, and his two wives. Sadly, you'll notice I didn't say "friends" in that list. Some co-stars did consider them friends at the time, but afterwards saw their relationship differently.

This character of Owen Eugene is an amalgam of several child stars from that era, and you can see snippets here and there that you can identify with old tabloid stories. The book manages to be both nostalgic and sad at the same time. As a case study of what often went wrong in that era of unprecedented child popularity, this is masterful. But don't go into this thinking it'll be cute and fun. There's a dark side to all child stars, even the one who survive.

This book is published by First Second, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

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