Cover image for Dara Palmer's major drama
Dara Palmer's major drama
Physical Description:
282 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
General Note:
"Originally published as Dara Palmer's Major Drama in 2014 in Great Britain by The Chicken House."
Reading Level:
760 L Lexile
Dara Palmer dreams of being an actress, but when she does not get a part in the school play she wonders if it is because of her different looks as an adopted girl from Cambodia, so Dara becomes determined not to let prejudice stop her from being in the spotlight.


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"Dara's larger-than-life personality and true-to-life middle grade issues command center stage until the curtain falls." --School Library Journal,Starred Review

Dara Palmer is destined to be a star, and she's writing herself the role of a lifetime.

Dara longs for stardom--but when she isn't cast in her middle school's production of The Sound of Music, she get suspicious. It can't be because she's not the best. She was born to be a famous movie star. It must because she's adopted from Cambodia and doesn't look like a typical fraulein. (That's German for girl.)

So irrepressible Dara comes up with a genius plan to shake up the school: write a play about her own life. Then she'll have to be the star.

Praise for Dream On, Amber:
A Booklist2015 Top 10 First Novels for Youth
A KirkusReviews Best Books of 2015
"[This] novel is a charmer...While its humor and illustrations lend it Wimpy Kid appeal, its emotional depth makes it stand out from the pack."--BooklistStarred review
"A gutsy girl in a laugh-out-loud book that navigates tough issues with finesse." --KirkusStarred review
"Amber's effervescent and opinionated narration captivates from the start." --Publishers WeeklyStarred review
"By turns playful and poignant, in both style and substance, this coming-of-age novel will hook readers from the first page to the last." --School Library Journal Starred review

Author Notes

Emma Shevah is half-Irish and half-Thai and was born and raised in London but now lives in Brighton, England. She runs the literary club at New York University in London and teaches English at Francis Holland School. Her novel Dream On, Amber received a 2017 Odyssey Honor Award for best audiobook produced for children and/or young adults. Visit Emma at

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

Hollywood-obsessed Dara Palmer wants to be an actor, but she doesn't look like any of the "honey vanilla waffles" that she idolizes. Ethnically Cambodian, this chatty British fifth-grader begins to wonder whether she isn't getting acting parts because of her looks-because it surely couldn't be for lack of talent, could it? As Dara, which means star in Khmer, tries to move past losing the starring role in the big school production, she also begins to sort out the fact that her "outsidey bit" doesn't match her mental image of a movie star. As quirky Dara, lover of teaspoons and hater of noodles, struggles with her identity as an adoptee and her rocky relationship with her younger sister (also adopted, but white), she finds the help of a teacher she didn't think she needed. And as Dara's acting skills grow, so do her understanding of herself and her empathy for those around her. Like Shevah's Dream On, Amber, this entertaining insight into the mind of an adopted child, snappily narrated and exuberantly illustrated, is sure to win readers over, one teaspoonful at a time. Ages 8-12. Author's agent: Allison Hellegers, Rights People. (July) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Horn Book Review

Though not a sequel to Shevah's first novel, Dream On, Amber, this book is set at the same British elementary school and features another memorable narrator. Fifth grader Dara is genuinely gobsmacked when she isn't given the part of Maria in the school performance of The Sound of Music. Is it because evil Miss Snarling, er, Snelling doesn't think an Asian girl would make a good Austrian nun? Nope -- Dara actually doesn't get any part (except a spot in the choir) because it turns out she isn't the extremely talented actor she thinks she is. Dara's eventual realizations that acting is more than making dramatic faces and that it involves putting oneself in another's shoes help her become a better actor along with a better friend and sister. Her older brother, kind and perceptive, is their parents' biological son; her younger sister was adopted from Russia; Dara, adopted from Cambodia, hates sticking out like a sore thumb in her otherwise white family. With themes of transracial adoption, racism, identity, friendship, and sibling rivalry (not to mention a hyperactively decorated page design), there's a lot going on here, but Shevah's novel raises interesting questions without attempting to neatly answer them all. Self-absorbed Dara isn't always likable, but her emotional growth is believable and appealing, and her super-chatty narration is never not funny. jennifer m. brabander (c) Copyright 2016. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Booklist Review

Fifth-grader Dara Palmer knows she's destined for the fortune and fame of Hollywood she and her friend Lacey can make the most dramatic faces, after all. That should make auditioning for the school's production of The Sound of Music a breeze, but when Dara doesn't get cast at all let alone land the starring role she is devastated. Could it be because she's Cambodian and doesn't look the part? Or, worse, because she can't act? As she did in Dream On, Amber (2015), Shevah takes an insightful look at tween life, exploring themes of identity, race, and family with a liberal dose of humor. Dara is a winning, fittingly overdramatic character who starts to grow once she takes a more serious look her life and those in it. Having been adopted by a loving, white family, Dara doesn't always feel she fits in, but by learning about her roots, working hard at acting, and trying to be a better sister, her world expands. A heartwarming, diary-style novel (with decorative doodles by Crawford-White) that deserves a place on library shelves.--Smith, Julia Copyright 2016 Booklist

School Library Journal Review

Gr 3-6-Dara knows she was meant to be a star. She watches TV all the time to study for roles, practices facial expressions in the mirror, and daydreams constantly about her future in Hollywood. When her middle school prepares to put on The Sound of Music, Dara knows she'll be Maria. Instead, she is in the chorus. As an adopted girl from Cambodia, Dara sometimes feels out of place in her British family, and she starts to wonder if her skin tone was the real reason she wasn't selected for the lead. Her focus on exterior factors is misguided-the cast of the musical is multicultural, and her position in the chorus reflects her abilities. Dara learns some important lessons as she battles her own insecurities, copes with a classmate who calls her some culturally insensitive names, and contemplates her goals. This journey leads Dara to consider a trip to Cambodia to find out more about her culture and come to terms with the realization that practice is necessary in order to succeed. Narrator Avita Jay's tone and pitch add so much dimension to Dara. Funny bits are mixed in with deep and heartfelt moments. This tale features a main character of color who has a great home life but who is dealing with her own insecurities about where she belongs, something that will resonate with many readers. VERDICT This story touches upon important topics such as adoption, self-acceptance, and racism; many children will see themselves in Dara. A must-have for libraries serving middle grade children. ["A funny and fresh addition to older-elementary collections": SLJ 5/16 starred review of the Sourcebooks Jabberwocky book.]-Katie Llera, Bound Brook High School, NJ © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

A fifth-grader who dreams of becoming a famous actor cannot find role models that reflect her Cambodian background.Following Dream On, Amber (2015), Shevah returns with another book, this time deftly navigating the complexity of being a transracial adoptee. Dara knows she's perfect for the lead role in her school's production of The Sound of Music. When she fails to land a role, she's thinks it's because she was adopted from Cambodia. Her dark brown skin and brown hair don't look the part of Austrian nun. Dreams crushed, Dara struggles for a sense of belonging. Her younger sister, Georgia, who was adopted from Russia, looks more like their British parents than Dara does. A classmate taunts her Asian heritage, calling her "noodlehead," yet she has no memories of her 18 months in the orphanage. She feels compelled to choose sides when her friend Vanna, another Cambodian adoptee, invites Dara to visit their orphanage together. With the support of her ginger-haired older brother Felix, she reluctantly joins an after-school drama class. With the help of her friends and family, Dara writes a play about her own lifein which a Cambodian-British girl can be the star. Crawford-White's charming doodle illustrations along the margins reflects Dara's inner monologues throughout the book.This funny, charismatic heroine will capture her readers' hearts. (Fiction. 8-13) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.