Review of Daring Darleen, Queen of the Screen

Daring Darleen, Queen of the Screen
by Anne Nesbet
Intermediate, Middle School    Candlewick    357 pp.    g
4/20    978-1-5362-0619-7    $18.99

“Sometimes the real danger is not what you thought it would be at all.” So begins the story of Darleen, young (fictional) star of silent movie serials. It is 1914, and Darleen keeps her family’s small film company afloat with her weekly celluloid adventure serial, The Dangers of Darleen. Short on money and hungry for publicity, her uncles set up a staged kidnapping to drum up excitement for Darleen’s onscreen adventures. What could go wrong? Life and film-serial drama become hopelessly entwined as Darleen finds herself tied up in the back of a car with real kidnappers and an orphaned heiress who has been abducted for her fortune. The deliciously outlandish plot includes lookalike heroines, wicked villains, cliffhangers, and an eventual happy ending. Nesbet re-creates the pace and melodrama of early films in her prose: “Oh, do be cautious! I’m afraid they’re dangerous, desperate men.” The strong character development and rich historical setting elevate the novel beyond period froth. When the tale begins, Darleen is used to being pushed around by directors (her uncles) and just pretends to be brave for the audience. By the end, Darleen discovers that she really is brave and that she can take control of her future. The author’s note places the novel in the context of film history and sends curious readers to watch the early serials that inspired this story.

From the July/August 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Maeve Visser Knoth
Maeve Visser Knoth is currently a children’s librarian for the San Mateo County Library in San Mateo, California. She has, over the years, worked as a public librarian, school librarian, teacher, and bookseller, and is a reviewer for The Horn Book Guide.

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