Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘A Part to Play


Jennifer Fry has described her debut novel, A Part to Play, as a contemporary re-imagining of The Phantom of the Opera. For fans of this famous tragedy, this is excellent news. For everyone else (myself included), take heart. The Phantom of the Opera connection means, of course, that there is a romance with a troubled musician, but there are other issues too as you’ll discover later in my review. For now, I’ll also confess that A Part to Play was so well-written that I found it difficult to pinpoint what aspects to feature as part of my review. Finally, I decided on these three outstanding ones: complex relationships, purposeful descriptions, and realistic handling of emotions.

Let’s start with the complex relationships. After her sister’s death, Lucy is shipped off to boarding school, because her parents are unable to handle their grief. Never mind that Lucy herself is still just a teenager and so could use adults to shepherd her through this difficult time. Instead her parents view her as the strong one, meaning apparently the best choice they can make for her is to send her away. The result is that Lucy must deal not only with her grief, but with perceived parental rejection as well. At this point, some authors would have kept Lucy’s parents behind the scenes to preserve reader dislike. Other authors might have instead brought them back onstage where they could magically transform into perfect parents. Neither happens, which feels true to life. Unfortunately, not all of the relationships are as believable. The one that is a bit too cliché for my tastes is Lucy’s unexpected rivalry with the former leading drama star Nicole. For no valid reason, Nicole makes Lucy her most hated nemesis on first sight. Throughout three-quarters of A Part to Play, Nicole is the quintessential antagonist. Then one day Lucy hears Nicole in the bathroom crying, decides to befriend her, and suddenly the world is right between them. I don’t think so! Although Fry did fail with this one relationship portrayal, she was successful with multiple others.

Turning to purposeful descriptions, Fry showed off her mastery of craft in Chapter One. Her first two lines alone show the main character, set the scene, and build intrigue: “Rain drops splattered the windshield and violent wind forced the SUV across the yellow lane divider. The unseasonal storm matched Lucy’s mood.” In such a short space, we already know that Lucy’s miserable, the weather is bad, and the family is struggling to stay on the road. Her parents are introduced like this: “His furrowed brown, his mouth in a permanent frown. No humor in his eyes. They hadn’t said two words to each other the entire ride. Not much different than the last few months. In between the endless silence, the only sounds in her house were the shuffle of those damned slippers her zombie of a mother wore.” Forgive me for so extensively quoting passages, but there are so many ineffective ways Lucy’s family could’ve been portrayed that I wanted you to read Fry’s writing for yourself. But that’s not to say Fry always delivered. For example, she resorted to a lackluster summative paragraph for Lucy’s first improvisation: “Students began whispering when she didn’t start the scene. She couldn’t do this and didn’t even care how she looked. So she turned and walked off the stage.” Blah, how dull is that? Overall though, by the time I’d finished reading A Part to Play, I wanted to learn as much as I could from Fry’s writing style.

Last, there is the realistic handling of emotions. For a first-time novelist, Fry certainly undertook some challenges. Readers will only tolerate a story’s main character wallowing in self-pity for so long. How then does an author stay true to reality, while also keeping readers engaged? Fry walks a tightrope when she allows Lucy to reject parents, friends, studies, and clubs, but also to explore the origins of music drifting through the school’s old heating system and become infatuated with a troubled young musician. Sometimes I feel that Fry wavered, but mostly Fry maintained an amazing balance. Fry also faces a risk, when she creates a romance for Lucy. The simple resolution for a plot about a lonely young woman would have been to have a man rescue her. At first, and perhaps for too long, this even seems the route Fry will take. Then Chris turns out to have troubles of his own, which create a twist in the plot. Even here, the simple and “feminist” solution would have been to have Lucy turn into an independent woman. Yet Fry mostly dodges that route too. Sometimes tackling a challenge can backfire; in Fry’s case, it worked in her favor.

English: Lon Chaney Sr. and Mary Philbin in &q...

English: Lon Chaney Sr. and Mary Philbin in “The Phantom of the Opera” (1925) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’d be remiss if I ended my review without referring to the A Part to Play’s parallels with The Phantom of the Opera. In the famous musical, leading lady Christine begins hearing a voice at the Opera House which sings and speaks to her; this voice belongs to a Erik, a physically deformed and mentally disturbed genius who was one of the building’s architects. Similarly, in A Part to Play, Lucy is moved by haunting music drifting through the boarding school’s old heating system. This music belongs to Chris, a troubled young man who is one of the school’s maintenance worker. At this point, the two stories somewhat digress, but to explain how would spoil the story. Not being a huge fan of The Phantom of the Opera, I had to search out a synopsis and felt surprised at how many parallels there were. A Part to Play should please Phantom fans. At the same time, it’s a riveting and dramatic story in its own right, and so others should take delight in it too.

Is A Part to Play flawless? No. Fry had some less than glorious moments. Overall though Fry impressed me with how unflinchingly she portrayed the real life repercussions of sorrow, loneliness, passion, and love. For that reason, I greatly enjoyed her contemporary re-imaging of the “Phantom of the Opera”.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

This month I am featuring mostly new authors. Starting off that list is Jennifer Fry, author of A Part to Play. My email to her went straight to spam and so this interview almost never happened. I’m glad we finally established contact, because I think you’ll agree that she’s an interesting person!

JenniferLFry_AuthorPhotoALLISON: You balance a lot of professional commitments: graphic design business, teaching art, writing books. Imagine spending one day taking a break from professional commitments. What would that ideal day look like?

JENNIFER: I would take a day trip somewhere with my husband. We’ve been wanting to get down to Big Sur, maybe hike around in the redwoods, have a picnic lunch. Sometimes we just like to take scenic drives and talk or listen to music–not even have a real destination in mind. Eventually, we’d find a cool, unique spot to eat dinner, soak in the local ambiance, and just enjoy each others company. Any work discussions would be banned for the day. It would be all about being in the moment.

ALLISON: You have two dogs and a cat. What is your funniest pet story?

JENNIFER: It’s hard to choose just one! They make me laugh constantly, which is exactly why I have them in my life. They are pure joy, with a little mischief mixed in. Here’s a few standouts:

  • We came home one night to find both dogs on the front porch. Apparently, they escaped the yard, had doggie adventures that involved them being covered with mud and burrs, and then returned because they were hungry.
  • If I hold my kitty near my shoulder, she will crawl up onto my shoulders and ride around. Sounds really cute until she nearly loses her balance, then it’s nothing but cat claws in the back of my neck.
  • My younger dog, Bowie, is small and a super fast runner. Our older dog, Rory, is sort of bumbling. So sometimes Bowie will run in circles in the yard as fast as he can, and since Rory can’t keep up, she barks at him as he runs past.
  • Most of the time, the kitty doesn’t want much to do with the dogs, but one night Rory was sleeping on the floor on her side and kitty decided to rub all over Rory’s back paws. She rubbed her cheeks for probably five minutes and Rory didn’t even wake up!
  • Rory will sometimes pick up one of her stuffed toys and carry it around in hopes of instigating play with us or with her younger brother. Or maybe it’s just to be cute. Either way, it works!

ALLISON: After your first book was released, you celebrated by going out to a restaurant with your husband. What are some of your other favorite ways to treat yourself?

JENNIFER: Probably my most favorite non-food treat is a deep-tissue massage. I also love to relax by putting on my pajamas and getting cozy in a big warm blanket, then watching a feel good movie I’ve seen a million times or reading a great book.

ALLISON: How has your life changed since having a novel published?

JENNIFER: Not all that dramatically, really. I have less free time now because I devote so much time to book promotion and building my audience. I feel more pressure to keep writing now because there are people that want to read what I’ve written (which is awesome). And the coolest thing is how so many people I talk to think publishing a novel is a real accomplishment–it’s something I worked hard for and can never be taken away from me.

ALLISON: Your bio indicates you are a graphic artist and art teacher. What has been the biggest challenge for you as a graphic artist? How do you draw upon your own experiences as an artist to help art students?

JENNIFER: The biggest challenge as a designer is getting my clients to trust my artistic judgment. I hope they hire me because they like the work that I create, but often times I am told to make a specific change to a logo or website that I don’t think looks great visually. However, the reality is, when someone hires you, they are the boss. Thankfully, my experience as an art teacher is very different. I use my artistic training to help my students improve their own work, and although I make suggestions, I never require them to make a change that they are not ultimately happy with, even if I disagree with their choice. I want my students to own their artistic style.

ALLISON: How did your students react to your book? Has being a published author changed your relationship with your students?

JENNIFER: You know, I haven’t really heard from my students about my book. I was nervous about promoting it to them because it contains content that some parents may find objectionable, so that could potentially be really difficult. Most of my current students don’t even know that I am a published author, so it hasn’t changed my relationship with them. Maybe I should reach out more, but there’s a part of me that feels like the student/teacher relationship is student-centric, and as such, I don’t feel comfortable sharing personal details when I’m in my teacher persona.

ALLISON: In an interview, you stated, “All of my stories tended to have a darker element – my characters experienced the breadth of human tragedy.” What draws you to writing about tragedy? How did you draw upon tragedies in your own life to make Lucy a believable character?

JENNIFER: I’m drawn to tragedy because I write about my big unanswered questions: What if my sibling died? What if my parents couldn’t deal with that sibling’s death and basically left me on my own to deal with my grief? How would I handle losing my own child? I want to understand people better–why they do the things they do, and how do they get better when bad things happen, which they inevitably do?

Thankfully, I never experienced anything as tragic as the events in Lucy’s life, but I did use some personal experience around issues with my parents to help me frame Lucy’s hurt and anger about feeling abandoned. I actually admire Lucy–she has so much inner strength. She confronts people when it’s warranted and learns how to value herself and move forward even when everything she knows has crumbled.

ALLISON: Your main character Lucy Carter is shipped off to Edmond School for Performing Arts. What do you think are the benefits of the arts (literary, visual, or performing) for students?

JENNIFER: This is such a great and important question. In my opinion, art is a foundation of culture. I believe that the arts are a powerful force to foster creative problem-solving, critical thinking, keen observation, innovation, and all forms of communication skills.

ALLISON: Lucy is an actress and a musician, but you have a different background. What experiences or research did you draw upon to make these attributes realistic?

JENNIFER: I spent my junior and senior high school years participating in all aspects of theater, from set building, to light board operation to acting on stage. I may not have had the talent Lucy has for acting, but I certainly had enough experience to draw on for my book. In fact, a drama teacher friend of mine asked me if I had ever participated in theater, because she thought that I portrayed it so authentically. In terms of musical experience, I sang in choir in high school and college, and I played guitar with a beginners rock band. I used what I knew about music and also based some of my story on experiences from my musician friends and teachers.

ALLISON: What’s next?

JENNIFER: I’d like to write another book about Chris’s experiences after this story ends, because there is more to tell about him and his back story didn’t get much exposure in this book. After that, I don’t have anything concrete enough to share, but I am working with several ideas at the moment.

Jennifer Fry wears many hats. This California lady balances writing, designing, teaching, being a wife, and owning pets.

Fry has apparently always been a storyteller. According to YA Stands, Fry’s first memory of being a writer came about is from grade two. Students had been asked to produce an illustrated storybook. While many of my classmates had no idea where to begin, Fry was busy trying to narrow my ideas down to just one. By the time sixth grade rolled around, Fry and her friends even formed a story club, where they would write and read their stories to each other. In high school, she made her first attempt at writing a novel. That’s when she learned the value of an outline. After writing about 25K words, she gave up because she had no idea of her novel’s direction.

The synopsis for Fry’s debut novel reads: “When fifteen-year-old actress Lucy Carter loses her older sister in a car accident, her mother shuts down and her father can’t hold the family together. Their only choice is to ship Lucy off to the Edmond School for Performing Arts. But boarding school is no cure for Lucy’s grief. With failing grades, wooden stage performances, and curfew violations, Lucy is threatened with expulsion.”

Why does Fry write realistic dark fiction? According to YA Stands,Fry didn’t fit into middle school, nor did she know to relate to her peers. Later, as an adult, Fry went through an emotional crisis where she lost belief in herself. This helped her realize that her “scars ran deep” and so she wanted to help teens find their way a little sooner than she had.”

For more information on Fry, read:

You can learn about more of the other hats Fry wears in my interview with her, which I’ll post on Friday. My review of her novel will appear on Saturday. Save the dates: December 14-15!

Allisons' Book Bag Logo

Thank You!

Allison’s Book Bag will no longer be updated. Thank you for eight years!

You can continue to follow me at:



Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 127 other subscribers