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'For the Record' is a cool YA sneak-peak into life on the road and on the stage

Charlotte's Huang's debut young adult novel delivers a frothy yet realistic look into the life of a young musician.

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    For the Record
    By Charlotte Huang
    Delacorte Press
    320 pp.
    Ages 12 and up
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Fellow readers, the holiday season is upon us! Since you’re reading this review (and not shopping or partying), clearly you’re a fellow nose-in-a-book-er. Charlotte Huang’s debut novel, For the Record is just the ticket for that seasonal flight/drive/escape mechanism. It’s frothy young adult fiction with a pitch-perfect mix of realism and sparkle.

Indie rock band Melbourne needs a new lead singer for their summer tour, and their label chooses Chelsea Ford. She’s thrilled, of course, but wary – this rock-and-roll summer won’t be all parties and crowd-surfing. Let’s break it down.

Pro: Chelsea’s a great singer and knows Melbourne’s catalog by heart. Con: The label only knew of Chelsea by her ninth-place finish on the TV show “American Pop Star.” The band and their fans are proudly indie, and reality TV is no one’s idea of authenticity.

Pro: This opportunity couldn’t come at a better time. An outcast at her suburban high school, Chelsea’s eager to escape mundane drama. Con: The tour isn’t much different. Life on the road is unglamorous, repetitive, and inescapable. One tour bus, three months, a 12-member crew, 25 states? You do the math.

Pro: The three guys in the band are gorgeous and (mostly) friendly. Chelsea and the guitarist, Beckett, develop a winning blend of friendship and chemistry. #swoon. Con: Intra-tour relationships are verboten. #sigh.

All these elements are churning when teen actor Lucas Rivers – think Zac Efron circa “High School Musical” – takes an interest in Chelsea. Her recognition goes through the roof, but Melbourne’s opinion of her plummets. Can she reconcile the two? And will she ever exorcise the spectre of the band’s ultra-cool former singer – a phantom that haunts the stage she’s come to love?

Huang, who’s married to a music agent, obviously knows her subject. With every detail, I imagined nods of solidarity from my family, most of whom are or were professional musicians. “For the Record” was like reading their collective road diary. It nails the contradictions of a performer’s life.

Chelsea confronts a confluence of factors: time away from home, but home never far from thought; close proximity to rockstars whom she’s forbidden to like; nights of glittering stages and fan adulation vs. days of endless soundchecks, claustrophobic bunks, and tepid oatmeal.

Think you and your siblings were in each others’ faces growing up? Imagine that you now you all live on a cramped bus, perform the same set list every night, keep crazy hours, and see almost no one but each other. It’s like the Boxcar Children meets “Survivor.”

Ultimately, Melbourne’s summer tour is a lesson in perspective for them all. For Chelsea, it’s time to learn that her past has no power to define her future, and her story is her own.

We all grapple with painful or embarrassing memories, and it’s easy to get myopic amid tough circumstances. The key is to remember that this is one moment of many, and it will not be the one that defines you forever.

You will not always be the girl who threw up or the guy with the acne. People will forget you burned the turkey or flubbed the wedding toast. Bad haircuts will grow out every single time. Take a deep breath and zoom out – negative experiences fade naturally with time. You’re a good person and it all gets better.

What a powerful, redemptive message for kids to learn and for adults to remember. I treasured these kinds of lessons in “For the Record.”

Huang makes strong choices with Chelsea, introducing a normal-sized girl with actual self-confidence. Chelsea feels just as comfortable eating Popsicles in the park as she does declining intimacy with Lucas Rivers. Similarly, she’s open-minded enough to listen to a musical recommendation 10 times but comfortable enough with herself to conclude it’s just not her thing.

Little maxims about how to be a good person are sprinkled throughout “For the Record.” Respect other people, and respect their stuff. Follow the rules. Know yourself. Trust your instincts. Call your parents. Do your homework. Never assume you know what someone else is going through.

“For the Record” has the snappy good-time feel of a Disney Channel or Mary-Kate & Ashley Olsen movie. If you dug “That Thing You Do!” or “Nashville,” you’ll love this peek behind the musical curtain.

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