By Seth Rudetsky
Available now from Random House BFYR (Penguin Random House)
I haven't read MY AWESOME/AWFUL POPULARITY PLAN, the first book about Justin by veteran Broadway pianist Seth Rudetsky. However, I was able to follow THE RISE AND FALL OF A THEATER GEEK just fine without it. Justin is a rather abrasive narrator. His mind is a little like a hamster running constantly around a wheel, and he thinks he knows best for everyone. I still liked him.
Justin makes several mistakes at the beginning of THE RISE AND FALL OF A THEATER GEEK. He pushes his boyfriend Spencer and best friend Becky too hard, and ends up alienating them. He also lies to the woman who lined up an internship for him to get out of it because he got a better internship working directly for a heartthrob making his Broadway debut. I found the second particularly naive of Justin, since most people understand you giving up one opportunity for another that fits your goals better. Lying, however, is less understandable.
THE RISE AND FALL OF A THEATER GEEK weaves together Justin's personal growth over his internship in New York with a mystery about why his employer is making such terrible acting decisions and what his agent is up to. The mystery is pretty obvious, so it's good that Justin's character growth is done with more nuance to balance it. Although Spencer and Becky aren't seen much in the novel due to the fight, I liked that they're shown to have gone on their own journeys. I like supporting characters with their own lives.
You might try reading a sample of THE RISE AND FALL OF A THEATER GEEK first, because Justin's voice might not work for you. If it does, this is a fairly cute bildungsroman with some nice details about how a Broadway show comes to be. It's pretty predictable, but I can see theater kids loving this one.