The Backstagers and the Theater of the Ancients (Backstagers #2)

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 19 Feb 2019

Member Reviews

A wonderful addition to this series. Such a fun middle grade read with a great backdrop of theater and spooky enough for the age level. I loved how diverse the characters were and kids could identify with them.
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I received this book in exchange for an honest review, which has not altered my opinion of the book.

This second book suffered slightly because it felt a lot more typical of a ya book than the others. That's not to say that I think these people are different and have no drama as middle schoolers because middle school is always full of drama. I guess I was just a bit disappointed with this one and a bit underwhelmed. I still recommend it, and I will probably continue with this series, but I'm not 100% positive as of yet. 4 out of 5 for me.
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I read and reviewed the first Backstagers book last year and I’ve been looking forward to the sequels, and here we are! These books, written by Broadway actor Andy Mientus, are actually a continuation from a comics series that I haven’t read yet. Because of this, it took me a little bit to become accustomed to the fantasy world and alternate reality, and while the second book contains enough background information it can be read on its own, I still found it easier to jump into. I also think the worldbuilding is also more frontloaded in this one by way of catching readers up.

This book is explicitly inspired by Andy’s experience in the Deaf West production of Spring Awakening (apparently the final copy is dedicated to that) and it propels the plot of the whole series in a very interesting and important direction. This book introduces Adrienne (who apparently does appear in the comics), a Deaf girl who uses both hearing aids and ASL. Bailey, the girl always cast as the lead, is cast in Tammy (the rock musical about a Deaf girl who becomes a Skee-Ball star…sound familiar? I also love how Andy wrote about the representation issues he noticed in Tommy when he was literally playing the lead role) as the lead role, but through Adrienne the group realizes that hearing actors playing deaf often botch ASL and there are so few opportunities for Deaf actors. And Adrienne has always wanted to be on stage…she just has never had the opportunity, and as she’s Deaf her singing isn’t comparable to hearing actors. So they construct a way for her to play Tammy while Bailey sings for her and provides cues on stage, very much like Deaf West’s Spring Awakening, and this impacts other technical elements as well.

But not everyone is thrilled, and I won’t spoil it, but this leads to a more specific introduction to the villains of the whole series and their motivations…of making theater pure again, less inclusive and not embracing of new technology. (Totally fictional, right?)

Meanwhile, Jory starts suffering from voices in his head–anxiety that leads to panic attacks and depression. His newfound fame on social media (“Instasnap”) makes it worse. He sets off on his own journey, and this makes his relationship with Hunter, the rest of the Backstagers, and also impinges his work with Tammy as costume designer. He can’t seem to believe his designs are good anymore, and he struggles to get out of bed. All of this was absolutely relatable, and I’m just SO HAPPY this is included in a middle grade book. There is a particular moment where therapy is discussed and THAT is so important. One of the Backstagers thinks that the voice might be something fantastical like so much of what they encounter, but no…it’s just a very real problem we all in the real world might face.

Some other things I liked: references to Greek theater, students enthusiastically learning ASL with a teacher named Mrs. Matlin, Jory and Hunter dealing with real relationship issues any couple could have in a way appropriate for ten year olds (we often don’t see much of this with queer relationships, and especially not for this age range), the Muse spirit character described with they/them pronouns, a reference to the musical Companions about how awful marriage is, the Adrienne and Bailey friendship, Aziz learning ASL for Adrienne, inclusion of specific ASL signs in the text and illustrations, the witch kid from the first book who still cracks me up…basically, I LOVED THIS BOOK. Even more than the first one, which I did really enjoy!! Now I need to find a finished copy and see the finished illustrations from Ryan Sygh…
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Thank you NetGalley and ABRAMS Kids for providing me with a copy for review.

The Backstagers is a wonderful middle grade series written by Andy Mientus and illustrated by Rian Sygh and is based on the comics by the same name. It follows a group of students who work behind the scenes in their school's theatre productions and the adventures they have along the way. This sequel, The Theater of the Ancients, picks up not long after the first book ended as the group embark on their next theatrical production, Tammy, a musical in which the group cast a deaf actress to play the deaf lead, and their new magical adventures backstage.

I was really excited to read this series as Andy Mientus is one of my favourite actors and the concept of a story inspired so much by theatre with a touch of magic was incredibly appealing to me. Both of the books so far in this series are well-written and I absolutely love reading them, but this sequel is definitely my favourite of the two. It is a brilliant story with some great characters, though I do wish I knew a bit more about some of them, and some fantastic representation.

One of the key things that I look for in books is the representation and this book does a brilliant job of including the diversity of humanity in the story without making it the focus of the story. There are several queer characters and several POC. There's a deaf character in the sequel that the group all readily include and work together with to make sure that they and the show are totally inclusive for (I especially liked how there are notes in the ARC referring to illustrations of ASL signs that will be in the finished edition and how it often reminded me of Deaf West Spring Awakening - a production Andy Mientus was a part of). There are mentions of mental health and taking care of yourself and how you should never be ashamed to be struggling. All of these things are well-written and slotted into a story that is targeted towards a middle grade audience that doesn't get this candour and diversity usually which makes it incredibly significant and important.

I've barely touched the surface of how good this book is, how much is accomplishes, and how glad I am that young people will have access to it. Many of them will be able to relate to the characters and find themselves in its pages and many more will learn so much about their peers and the world, they will have an insight into the way that the people around them are feeling and they will see what role they can play in it all too. All whilst they are reading about a group of misfit kids fighting ghosts, gaining magical artefacts, and exploring the mystical secrets behind the scenes of the world of theatre.
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"The Backstagers" is an unashamed love letter to theatre, with some ghosts and supernatural activity thrown in, and I love it. Once again, this latest installment in the Backstagers series combines an interesting fighting the supernatural plot with the process of running the latest school show. "Tammy" is a very obvious reference to "Tommy" and knowing the show quite well, I had fun picking up the different references to how they were staging the production. This book also starts getting into the overarching plot of the series, which looks very promising. Secret society trying to "make theatre pure again"? Yep, definitely a great antagonist there. What I particularly enjoyed, though, was the light-hearted way in which the book approaches serious issues such as Jory's depression or how deaf parts should be played by deaf actors. I look forward to seeing how the plot continues to unfold.
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This book is the second in the series of Backstagers, but was still enjoyable without having read the first. The story is a fun, magical adventure for anyone interested in their school’s drama club. The group of Backstagers are close friends all relying on eachother’s talents to not just put on their next performance but to save the day as well. 
Thank you to ABRAMs Kids and NetGalley for this advanced copy, my opinions are my own.
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[4.5 stars] 
Like every other Backstagers book/comic, this was fantastic. It remains entertaining, and adorable, and diverse. In this book they put on a play where the main character is Deaf and they make a point to have the original actress drop out so a Deaf actress can take her place. Such awesome rep! The only reason I docked it half a start is I felt like some of the magic was missing because Jory seemed so separate from the rest of the Backstagers, it all comes together in the end, and it was necessary to the plot, but it made me sad. If you haven't read anything about The Backstagers yet, GET ON IT!!!
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