Daring Darleen, heroine of Saturday serials, stumbles into a real-life adventure in this clever saga from the early days of photoplays.
Daring Darleen, Queen of the Screen by Anne Nesbet. Candlewick, 2020, 354 pages.
Reading Level: Middle Grades, Ages 10-12
Recommended for: ages 10-14
By the age of 12, Darleen Darling has already starred in seven two-reeler cliffhangers for the family film business. Though she’s known and loved across the nation as “Daring Darleen,” Matchless Studios could use an income boost. That’s why Aunt Shirley, the business manager, talks Uncle Dan the cameraman and Uncle Charlie the director into a brazen publicity stunt. At the premiere of Darleen on the Edge, Uncle Dan will be on hand to film (accidentally-on-purpose), a supposed abduction of Darleen herself! The heroic heroine will then be safely spirited away awaiting her dramatic rescue in “real life.”
Darleen’s Papa isn’t so thrilled about the notion, but he’s been a bit unfocused and irresolute since the death of Darleen’s mother. So the plan is launched—and instantly goes awry when Darleen finds herself mixed up in a real kidnapping! The real victim is Victorine Berryman, heiress of a fabulous fortune that scheming “relatives” can’t wait to get their hands on.
The story is narrated in the semi-breathless, stagy style of an early silent movie, and the plot unfolds likewise, with chases, escapes, and clever ruses. Also few surprises: the villains are obvious from the beginning and completely without nuance. The other characters likewise show little development, though the girls form an appealing bond and each brings a virtue to their budding friendship that the other lacks. Movie fans will enjoy experiencing the earliest days of American filmmaking, when the action was all in Ft. Lee, New Jersey. The author, a professor of film history, knows her stuff. Chapter headings in the style of silent-movie title cards add to the ambience and the story wraps up appropriately:
The girls had a pact now. They would learn how to be heroes of their own lives. And while they learned, they would savor the miracle and sweetness and promise of these three most wonderful words, which are as much about the adventure of life as about any story or photoplay: TO BE CONTINUED!
Overall Rating: 3.75 (out of 5)
- Worldview/moral value: 3.5
- Artistic/literary value: 4
Also at Redeemed Reader:
- Anne Nesbet is the author of The Orphan Band of Springdale, which we reviewed favorably and which was a runner up for WORLD Magazine’s Children’s Book of the Year.
- For another take early-movie days, this time from Hollywood, see Betsy’s interview with the author of I Don’t Know How the Story Ends. (Full disclosure: the author is me.)
- More early movie stars? How about the amazing true story of Strongheart: Wonder Dog of the Silver Screen?
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