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Chapters 16 & 17: Joining the festival

From an amazing discovery in chapter 15, Vanessa undergoes sort of a pivot in chapters 16 and 17. That begins when Maggie shares some pretty solid evidence that Mary is just plain mentally ill. Vanessa is confused by this new information, and she would turn to her mother for advice. But as it works out, her mother inadvertently gives her a change of direction, in the form of an opportunity that would scare the life out of anyone else: singing in the youth contest at the Angel Wings festival.

Vanessa stammered out several sentences that all died away in confusion. She didn’t have the right voice. There wasn’t enough time. Photini was a much better choice. But the more she heard her own excuses, the more flustered she felt, because she was shocked to find that she was strangely attracted to the idea. Wouldn’t it be amazing to have a chance to sing at something like this? With a stage and lights and a microphone and everything? Wouldn’t it be incredible?

It is just the thing to allow Vanessa to just skip the annoying puzzles she has been wrestling with and just embrace this new chance. When she goes to the rehearsal, though, she’s in for a shock. Far from being a shoo-in at this contest, she has serious competition. Like … serious.

To Vanessa’s surprise, they didn’t sing like the kids she had heard in school. They started low, and there was a lovely quality to their singing that was very pretty. Then the song got higher and louder,
and they raised their voices in unison. They both put a lot of extra little musical lifts and special notes in, and the entire time, they were in perfect harmony with each other.

Vanessa felt her jaw drop open. What was happening? Those guys were really … good.

I’m afraid my inclusion of all this owes to a growing irritation with the kinds of movies that so very, very common. In everything from High School Musical to Bring It On, we see a formulaic plot that may begin with a shy girl or a nerdy misfit — someone that all of us can relate to — but always ends with them looking like just another rock star. Here’s one of those bits from High School Musical (note that she ditches the lab coat when it’s time to get real):

Somehow there’s a meta-message that plays out constantly — that ordinary life is drab and the showy life of a performer is much more important. And in the end, the transformed rock star always wins, usually while grinding the face of her jealous arch-enemy in the dirt.

As a kind of modern fairy tale, I suppose it’s harmless. But think of how many movies there are like this, as if there aren’t thousands of viable career choices for a young person. And even if this is just a modern-day parable, why not cover the scenario that a person will encounter much more often: What do you do when you aren’t the best? Is it really that impossible to show what happens when your vanity is thwarted, when you have to admit defeat graciously?

More importantly, in terms of Vanessa and her path forward, if starting down that track seems like it is leading to a kind of decision fork, which way should you go? If the path to stardom looks like it will take you away from things that are much more meaningful, what do you do?

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