Jeff Zentner Book Review
“Sometimes small and unspectacular things can be a universe.” (excerpt from Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner)
Jeff Zentner makes his triumphant return with his third young adult novel, Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee. Published in February 2019, this latest release follows Zentner’s widely acclaimed books, The Serpent King and Goodbye Days. Jeff is the keynote speaker at Chattanooga’s second annual young adult book festival, YA-hoo Fest. The festival will be held on September 21st at Chattanooga State Community College. A complete schedule, including the festival lineup and additional information about the participating authors, can be found at yahoofest.org.
Best friends Josie and Delia—or perhaps better known by their on-screen pseudonyms, Rayne and Delilah—have managed to find their perfect niche. For years, they have spent every Friday night producing their public access television program, Midnite Matinee. Dedicated to screening low-budget horror flicks that would otherwise be lost to history, the show has amassed its own modest (but incredibly faithful) following among the horror fanatics and nighttime public access viewers of America.
For Josie, Midnite Matinee is the first step toward a future career in television. As her high school graduation day approaches, though, she worries about what her next step will be. Pressured by her parents to accept an out-of-town TV internship, but terrified of leaving the show and disappointing her best friend, she stands before a major crossroads.
Delia has loved horror movies for as long as she can remember. Her fondest childhood memories are of watching them with her dad, from whom she inherited her affinity for the genre. After her father abandoned the family, Delia began using the films he left behind as a coping mechanism for dealing with her broken home life. Now, she fantasizes about the day her dad will stumble upon Midnite Matinee and finally regret leaving behind his wife and daughter.
Throughout high school, the show has been a constant in both girls’ lives. It is the foundation upon which their friendship was built. As the inevitability of change looms before them, their dedication to Midnite Matinee—and to each other—is put to the test like never before.
“But the thing with a best friend is that you’re never talking about nothing. Even when you’re talking about nothing, it’s something. The times when you think you’re talking about nothing, you’re actually talking about how you have someone with whom you can talk about nothing, and it’s fine.”
Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee showcases Zentner’s incredible understanding of teenagers and their friendships. Josie and Delia go back and forth with unrelentingly witty banter and inside jokes; though they share a language of their own, their dialogue feels familiar to the reader, reminiscent of the fast-talking that the beloved characters of Gilmore Girls are known for. Nevertheless, the novel is undeniably a product of its time. Zentner is well-versed in the art of portraying adolescence in the twenty-first century, as evidenced by the up-to-date pop culture references throughout the novel—to an extent that it almost seems as though the novel’s prose is being written in real time by the teenagers who narrate it. Additionally, the portrayal of young women in the novel is refreshingly dynamic. Never made to be in competition with one another or with other female characters, Josie and Delia are self-assured in their respective talents and passions. Zentner’s characters refuse to be disrespected; they know they are smart, they know they are funny, they know they deserve respect—yet the feminist undertones of the novel never come across as heavy-handed.
Peppered between the laugh-out-loud funny moments are the quiet, tender moments that make the characters come to life. The girls’ unyielding loyalty for each other and passion for their show is juxtaposed with the inevitable insecurity and fragility of young adulthood. The dual perspective of the novel—with narration from both Josie and Delia, alternating with each chapter—allows for a beautifully nuanced understanding of both characters’ feelings and struggles. Delia’s story in particular is one riddled with clinical depression, financial troubles, and a missing father. Her voice perhaps rings clearest in the novel; the reader is sure to wonder alongside her, “why the people with the least to lose are always losing the little they have.” Even so, it is her resilient and caring heart that remain most memorable, even after one closes the book.
“There’s something inspiring about people who stay in just-okay (or even not-okay) places and build things that make those places better.”