I was a big fan of the TV show Webster. Emmanuel Lewis plays a young African-American boy who is adopted by an ex-NFL lineman and his socialite wife. Webster is ridiculously cute and funny, and the script-writers take advantage of his looks and innocence. I remember getting to know him in the first season and then the plots in the subsequent seasons touched on social issues such as mixed-race families, sexual abuse, and wealth inequality. While the outward appearance, what came out of the screen in my living room, was perfectly cut and presented for my 7-year-old viewing pleasure, it’s the underlying issues of actor abuse and exploitation that Box Brown delves into in his book Child Star.
An impressively dense and thorough look at the child star phenomenon, Child Star looks at Owen Eugene and his run on a famous fictional show. Brown’s nonfiction or mockumentary approach gives the reader the perfect perspective to meet Eugene’s sidelined co-stars, greedy parents, and aggressive network executives. Each faction sits on their island with little understanding of the others except for what will get themselves the best bottom line.
After a meteoric rise to popularity, Owen slides back down to earth and his stardom starts to fade. This was both the most tragic part of the book as well as the most engrossing. I was fascinated by how Brown incorporated many of the examples from the well-known stars of the 80s and 90s. Soleil Moon Frye, Gary Coleman, and Ricky Schroder… you can see evidence of their and other actors examples on each page of the book.
My only criticism is that at times I was a little tired of the artwork. This is my third book by Brown (Andre the Giant and Cannabis: The Illegalization of Weed in America) and I’m always blown away with his plot arcs, but the cartoony art style is so similar to his other pieces… I was left wanting some variety.
An informative and at times gripping account of the rise and fall of fictional “Child Star” Owen Eugene.
4 out of 5 stars
Thank you to NetGalley, First Second, and the author for an advanced copy for review.