Like a PG-rated Fame, Jenni, Maggie, and Lauren are backup singers in The Backups: A Summer of Stardom.
From a vague job posting on a bulletin board to getting to tour with a pop star. If ever a summer was made for the “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” essay prompt, it’s the one Jenni, Maggie, and Lauren experience in The Backups: A Summer of Stardom. Like a PG-rated Fame, Jenni, Maggie, and Lauren are all juniors at a performing arts high school. Jenni’s a vocal major with an unabashed love of pop music. Maggie is a metalhead drummer, and Lauren plays classical music on the cello. With so many girls auditioning, it does seem a little convenient that they should pick the three girls from the same school. It’s not like they auditioned together and until the tour they didn’t socialize much, but if there’s a fantasy element to The Backups it’s also a reminder that dreams can come true.
For Maggie and Lauren, being Nika Nitro’s backup singers isn’t the dream anyway – it’s a paying job. Pop isn’t their genre, but one of the points writer, Alex de Campi, stresses in this book, both in terms of a career and in general, is not to rule anything out prematurely. Dreams change and you never know what might click if you stay open to trying new things. Maybe you just confirm the dream you already had but it never hurts to widen your experiences.
The book also promotes never being ashamed of the things you love and letting other people dictate what’s “cool” and what’s not. On the one hand The Backups is a breezy read but there’s a lot of work that goes into making each character three dimensional. First impressions won’t serve you well in this story and it takes time to get to know everyone.
Lara Kane’s art (with inks by Ted Brandt) incorporates anime elements and the way she plays up Nika’s reputation with her introduction is a lot of fun. At first Nika’s face is kept hidden, and it creates this tension around her before she even appears on stage.
Both the best and worst of celebrity are on display in this book, including Jenni developing a crush on Nika’s supporting act. What feels very modern about these interactions is how protective Jenni’s friends are. It’s not like he gives off bad vibes, but no one takes for granted that he isn’t a predator just because he’s nice and famous, and that’s what friends are for – being on guard so you can enjoy the romance.
Dee Cunniffe’s colors help establish the backstage world so there’s plenty of spatial awareness, while local references, like to Wawa, help with the realism of this being a tour with multiple stops. Characters aren’t always careful with their words, which when you encounter these moments it can catch you off guard but they’re truthful. Interior monologues don’t have filters. How you think about someone in your head and what you would say aloud can be two vastly different things and it feels honest to acknowledge that.
The Backups: A Summer of Stardom is on sale now from Imprint.