Perceptions of fame get complicated in tale of psychic teen living in a movie set

New hi-lo novel from Carol Matas carries message of acceptance

In her new novel for middle-grade readers, Zevi Takes the Spotlight, prolific Winnipeg author Carol Matas wanted to challenge perceptions of fame.

“Fame has become something that young people aspire to. And that aspiration doesn’t necessarily include making the world better, or excelling at a sport or an art, quite the contrary – fame can stand alone as something you want to be when you grow up,” she says.

Zevi Takes the Spotlight brings together elements of psychic phenomena, the film industry, and Jewish culture. Accessibly written and printed in a dyslexia-friendly font, this high-interest novel was produced specifically for students aged 9 to 12 who are reading below grade level.

Matas is the author of over 47 books for young people, in genres including historical fiction, sci-fi, supernatural, and thriller. But Zevi Takes the Spotlight is her first hi-lo novel. The new format came with new challenges in the writing process.

“Maybe because I write so many historical books, or maybe because I like to challenge my readers, I do enjoy using some big words,” she admits. “Those words could not be used, so I was often looking at the thesaurus for substitutes. I was very lucky to have an amazing editor.”

Zevi, Matas’s 13-year-old protagonist, dreams of becoming a famous actor. When a film crew wants to turn his home into a movie set, Zevi sees his chance to gain experience as an extra. But when his psychic abilities keep warning him just in time to save the lead actor from strange accidents on set, Zevi is thrust into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

The mystery of who is causing these accidents draws the reader in, as does Zevi’s relatable struggle not to be underestimated by the adults around him.

Carol Matas
Carol Matas

Matas drew on her own experiences when developing Zevi’s artistic ambitions. “Before I became a writer, I was an actor,” the graduate of the Actor’s Lab in London, England, says.

“The film world is a perfect place to explore themes of fame. And I was very lucky to have a professor from the University of Winnipeg, John Kozak, who agreed to help me with all the technical aspects of a movie set. It’s complicated!” The detailed depictions of a movie set are sure to interest readers with film aspirations of their own.

Skilfully woven throughout the story are references to Jewish identity and culture, which is an important part of many of Matas’s works.

“To write about a Jewish character and to let the readers see that they are just the same as any other kid is important,” says Matas. “I hope that the main feeling they will get from Mom and Dad in the book is one of caring, warmth, and acceptance.

“And from Zevi they will see a normal kid who is just like them, trying to do the best he can in a world where maybe he can’t control a lot, but he tries to make the best decisions possible.”