Daring Darleen: Queen of the Screen

Book cover for Daring Darleen: Queen of the Screen.

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Book Review

In Daring Darleen: Queen of the Screen it’s 1914, and Darleen Darling—star of The Dangers of Darleen serial shorts—finds her real-life colliding with her onscreen one when a fake kidnapping set up by her studio becomes all too real. Now the intrepid 12-year-old can only hope she’s learned her derring-do lessons well.

Plot Summary

Twelve-year-old Darleen Darling, otherwise known as “Daring Darleen” to her many fans, is no stranger to doing silly or stupid things. She’s been doing them in front of a moving-picture camera for pretty much as long as she can remember. She’ll be hanging from a cliff by her fingertips or dangling by one foot from a hot air balloon at any given moment. And with the number of movie houses and flickers growing by the day in 1914, that’s made her something of a silent movie star.

Well, not exactly a movie star, since her The Dangers of Darleen episodes are really just a series of shorts that run before or after the actual movie. But people sure recognize her a lot when she’s here and there.

Folks who don’t know better would gush that her life is exciting and incredible. But the fact is, her day-to-day has become a fairly regular routine at Matchless, the struggling film company that her family runs and owns in Fort Lee, New Jersey. In truth, their business is really pretty small potatoes But people sure do love her weekly celluloid adventure serials. They’re what’s keeping Matchless afloat.

That fact is what gives Darleen’s Aunt Shirley a big idea. There’s a new, massive Manhattan theater holding an opening-night celebration soon. And they’ll be running a Dangers of Darleen short. Why not capitalize on that by setting up a fun publicity stunt, Aunt Shirley muses. They could set up a camera out front and stage a fake kidnapping of Darleen on the spot. And then put it in the next short. Why, if it’s handled well—and that kind of publicity is Aunt Shirley’s bread and butter—it could be the means to wiping out all of the filmmaking family’s debts.

There’s only one problem. After warning the police of their stunt, setting up the camera and timing everything just right, something goes terribly wrong. Darleen hits all her marks and plays her role perfectly, but she gets caught up in a very real kidnapping in the sparkling movie theater’s entryway. In the process of grabbing a newly orphaned heiress, Victorine Berryman, real-but-none-too-smart thugs end up grabbing Darleen, too, and throwing her in their car.

Since Darleen and Victorine are the same age and look so similar, the dummy do-badders aren’t sure which is which. Darleen can’t believe it. This is just like some crazy adventure serial that her Uncle Charlie might dream up. Only the dangerous-looking bad guys aren’t just extras driving too fast in a growling sedan. This is real and scary. 

“Oh, do be cautious! I’m afraid they’re dangerous, desperate men,” the frightened Victorine whispers. And all Darleen can think is that getting out of this situation might not be as easy as dangling from a rocky cliff by her fingertips.

Christian Beliefs

None.

Other Belief Systems

Darleen tends to have an excited little feeling spring up inside her when she’s faced with daring or particularly scary situations. And she worries that it might be a feeling that could one day backfire on her in the wrong situation. She also connects that feeling to some dreams, or maybe visions that she’s had, involving some kind of dancing angel. Later though, she realizes that they weren’t dreams or visions at all, but memories of her late mother (who died when she was very young) dancing on their rooftop. 

Authority Roles

Darleen works with her dad, a couple uncles and her Aunt. And they all have parental-like roles in her life. But while her father is almost overly protective of her and constantly worried for her safety, her uncles sometimes put her in very dangerous situations “to get the right shot.” Aunt Shirley takes on the role of parental enforcer. No one messes with her.

Another woman, Madame Blache, steps up to give Darleen and Victorine aid later in the book. And even though she’s a rather new acquaintance and the owner of a rival picture studio, she staunchly defends the girls and becomes a key to resolving the mystery that the girls are a part of.

Victorine, however, doesn’t have much support in her world. After the death of her wealthy grandmother, she is “given” to an Aunt and Uncle who are assigned to care for her until she comes of age. But they’re uncaring and untrustworthy sorts who appear only concerned with how much money they can lay their hands on.

Profanity & Violence

There’s no profanity in this tale. And in fact, it plays out very much like an old, stylized film with what we would consider appropriate language for those in it.

There is, however, violence afoot. The kidnappers and those associated with them always present a physical threat. One of these thugs forcefully knocks out Darleen’s dad, and it takes several days for him to get up and move around again. Another is caught in the act of setting fire to the Matchless studio by igniting volatile film-processing chemicals.

Darleen and Victorine are threatened repeatedly with great harm as they run from their captors and get caught up in dangerous situations. Darleen barely avoids being killed in a hot-air balloon crash while hanging from a great height. And the girls are both manhandled from time to time.

Sexual Content

There’s nothing sexual in the mix here.

Discussion Topics

What did you learn about old movies and how they made them from this book? Did it make you want to learn more? Do you think 1914 would have been an exciting year to live in?

What about Darleen’s family situation? How is it like some families we see today? How’s it different? Darleen shares a lot of heartfelt thoughts about her mom and dad. What do you think that says about the connection between parents and kids?

What do you think this book is saying about what it takes to be a hero? Do you see any similarities between Darleen and you? What is it saying about friendship and people who come from different backgrounds?

What did you like most about this book?

Get free discussion questions for other books at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments

There are con men and lies everywhere, as well as a potentially deadly mystery here that Darleen must piece together and solve. But the book is written in such a way that it never feels too intense for young readers, and the resolution takes on a nice serial short feel by story’s end.

You can request a review of a title you can’t find at [email protected].

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not necessarily their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Review by Bob Hoose.

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