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Alex Flinn

Publishing Information: HarperTempest: New York, 2006
ISBN: 0060568437 / 0060568453
: 272 p.
Ages: 12 & Up

Caitlin pursues her dream of becoming an opera singer by attending a performing arts school even though she must leave her friends and familiar environment.

Book Talk:
"Sometimes the only one a girl can confide in is her blog!

Subject: Fresh Start

Listening to: Medea (the opera named for the mythological woman who killed her kids just to bug her ex-husband ... Reminds me of my mother.)

Feeling: Anticipation

Weight: 112 lbs.

For most people, the word "diva" means brilliant, talented, over-the-top, and glamorous. I, however, seemed to be trapped in the not-very-glamorous life of a cheerleader wannabe with serious ex-boyfriend issues and a permanent yo-yo diet. At least until the day I auditioned for Miami High School of the Arts -- and got in! All I had to do was convince my mother, the cosmetics salesperson with epically bad taste in clothes and men, that going downtown to hang with the music geeks was a good idea. I had to blackmail her to be able to do it, but I'm here -- a diva-in-training -- and I'm not so sure I can cut it.

Now what?"
Subject Headings & Major Themes:

Body Image
Dating Violence
Mother - Daughter Relationships
Singers and Singing

Awards & Reviews:
In Breathing Underwater (2005), Flinn told the story of Nick, a kid who seems flawless but who beats his girlfriend, Caitlin. Diva is Caitlin's story. Some time has passed. Nick is abiding by the restraining order keeping him away from Caitlin, and she is still trying to understand herself. She no longer believes she is the fat no-talent Nick insisted she was, but she's still obsessed with her weight and unsure about trying out for a performing-arts high school and exploring her passion for opera. Then there's her mother, who wants people to think they are sisters and who is having an affair with a married man. Written partly as an online diary, the story neatly delineates teens' concerns--some contemporary, others ages old. Caitlin makes the grade at her new school and begins to appreciate her talent, but things are rockier with friends and boyfriends. The most interesting relationship is between Caitlin and her mother; Flinn turns a fine eye on the seemingly never-ending mother-daughter dance, in which someone is always out of step. A fast read, but there's meat here, too. -- Ilene Cooper
, October 1, 2006, p48

Determined to become an opera diva, 16-year-old Caitlin McCourt transfers to Miami High School of the Arts (MHSA), where at first fitting in with her talented new classmates is difficult. However, thanks to her mother and ex-boyfriend, Nick, her transition is even more complicated. Flinn first introduced Caitlin and Nick's physically abusive relationship in Breathing Underwater (2001), and although the couple is separated, aftershocks from this earlier text are still palpable, especially Caitlin's major confidence issues, in particular regarding her weight. Although Nick makes several appearances (despite a restraining order), Caitlin slowly and plausibly moves past this destructive relationship by focusing on her transition to MHSA, her funky new friends, who are drawn with great depth, and the discovery of her powerful voice, both on stage and off, especially when dealing with her mother. Realistic and thoughtful.
Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2006

Gr 7-10: Caitlin, who was abused by her 16-year-old boyfriend, Nick, in Flinn's Breathing Underwater (HarperCollins, 2001), wants to put that relationship behind her. A talented opera singer, she gets into Miami High School for the Performing Arts despite her own nervousness and her mother's objections. Even there she feels like an outcast as she can't dance or sing pop and she obsesses about her weight. Her mother dresses like a teenager, is dating a married man, and seems to live off her ex-husband. At auditions, she meets another talented opera singer, Sean, but just as Caitlin is starting to fall for him, she realizes he's gay. While she's struggling to put all this into perspective, her singing instructor suggests that she try out for a summer opera program in New York. In the end, the teenager patches things up with her ex, who has reformed through counseling. After she gains new respect for her mother, and new confidence, she decides to pursue her dream and is accepted to the program in New York. Caitlin tells her story partly through online journal entries. Although her understanding of her mother comes too rapidly, this is a solid story, full of self-deprecating humor, snappy dialogue, and well-developed characters and situations. -- Tina Zubak, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, PA
School Library Journal
, November 2006, p135

Discussion Questions and Ideas:

  1. Caitlin is a talented singer who is uncomfortable pretending to be someone her mother and everyone else want her to be. Who does Caitlin think she is?
  2. How has the abusive relationship Caitlin had in the past with Nick affected her in the present?
  3. Caitlin obsesses about her weight. Is this obsession likely to lead to an eating disorder? Why or why not?
  4. Is Caitlin's success at her singing the result of hard work or innate talent? Is there a difference?
  5. What is the impact on Caitlin of her mother's obsession with appearing younger than she is?
  6. Imagine Nick and Caitlin together again.  How might the relationship be the same? Different?

Related Websites:
Alex Flinn's Web Site - - Features author, book, contact, and appearance information, plus teachers' guides, discussion guides, and a guestbook.

Dating Violence - - Comprehensive website on dating violence, including a bill of rights, where to go for help, statistics, and stories. Dating violence crosses all racial, economic and social lines.

Researching Reality: How a Young Adult Author Researches - - An article by Flinn that appeared in the December 2004 issue of VOYA.

Teen Dating Violence - - According to recent statistics, it is extremely likely that you or someone you know have experienced violence in a dating relationship. Dating violence can take many forms, including psychological and emotional abuse, physical abuse, and sexual abuse. It can occur in the context of casual dating or serious long-term relationships.

Dating Violence
Dreamland by Sarah Dessen, 2000 (A 2000 RITBA Nominee)
Leslie's Journal by Allan Stratton, 2000
Past Forgiving by Gloria D. Miklowitz, 1995
Tenderness by Robert Cormier, 1997
Things Change by Patrick Jones, 2004
The Wind Blows Backward by Mary Downing Hahn, 1993

Ambition in Girls
Bass Ackwards and Belly Up by Liz Craft & Sarah Fain, 2006
Going for the Record
by Julie A Swason, 2004
A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly, 2003 (A 2005 RITBA Nominee)
The Orpheus Obsession by Dakota Lane, 2005

King of the Creeps by Steven Banks, 2006
Lou in the Limlight by Krstin Hunter Lattany, 1981
Overnight Sensation by Trish Cook, 2006
Pepperland by Mark Delaney, 2004
Plastic Angel by Nerissa Nields, 2005
Pop Princess by Rachel Cohn, 2004
Singer in the Snow by Louise Marley, 2005
The Singer of All Songs by Kate Constable, 2004
The Voice that Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights by Russell Freedman, 2004

Other Books by the Author:
Breathing Underwater, 2001 (A 2002 RITBA Nominee)
Breaking Point, 2002 (A 2004 RITBA Nominee)
Nothing to Lose, 2004 (A 2006 RITBA Nominee)
Fade to Black, 2005 (A 2007 RITBA Nominee)

About the Author:
Alex Flinn was born October 23, 1966 in Syosset, New York. She started thinking about being a writer at the age of 5 and submitted early efforts to magazines like Highlights, which did not publish them. At twelve, she moved to Palmetto Bay, Florida, where she attended Southwood Middle School. Her teen years were rocky, but she immersed herself in performing arts, particularly opera and musical theater. Although she tried to write at that time, she never finished anything. She attended Palmetto High School, and a performing arts magnet called PAVAC, which is now the New World School of the Arts. She graduated from the University of Miami with a degree in music performance and eventually received a law degree. She began writing in earnest in 1996, and her first novel was published in 2001. She lives in Palmetto Bay, Florida, with her husband and two daughters.

According to Flinn: "I think I write for young adults because I never quite got over being one. In my mind, I am still 13 years old, running laps on the athletic field, wearing this really baggy white gymsuit. I'm continually amazed at the idea that I have a checking account and a mortgage. So I try to write books that 'gymsuit girl' might enjoy. It's a way of going back to being thirteen ... knowing what I know now."

| ©2004 - Rhode Island Teen Book Award Committee | Aaron Coutu, Chair