Desert Isle Keeper
Reel is the first in Kennedy Ryan’s Hollywood Renaissance series featuring Black creatives. Director Canon Holt’s six-month search for the woman to star in his biopic of a forgotten Black musical legend comes to an end when he sees Neevah Saint take the stage as a Broadway understudy. He doesn’t care that she’s an unknown, or that her background is in theater. It’s Neevah, he tells the studio, or it’s nobody. And after being thrown off a previous film by the lead actress when they broke up, he will absolutely not get involved with Neevah. No matter how much he wants to.
Neevah almost gave up performing to marry her high school sweetheart – until she found out that he was cheating on her with her sister. She ended up taking a college scholarship to study theater, but is estranged from her family. That, and the grind of a working actress, aren’t the only stresses in her life: she’s also been diagnosed with discoid lupus, which affects her hair and skin but is not the more serious form of the disease. Canon’s casting offer is beyond a dream come true, not only for her job but the chance to tell one of too many lost Black stories. And she will not ruin it by getting involved with Canon. No matter how much she wants to.
Neevah has the added complexity of her family situation. Avoiding her sister and fiancé-turned-brother-in-law has meant losing contact with her mother and never establishing a relationship with her niece. When Neevah’s health issues come to a head, she needs her family, which requires confronting the past.
The setting is meticulously developed. I had a strong sense of how Canon’s film set works, of the power dynamics between him and the producers/studio, and then downwards from him to his creative team. The story realistically includes characters like the assistant director, cinematographer, writer, and other members of the crew. We‘re given details about the length of the work day, on-set daycare, film vs. digital, even Canon’s presence in the “video village” instead of behind the camera on the set itself.
What would I change here? I did get annoyed with Canon for taking Neevah out in public when they were trying to keep their relationship under wraps. Mostly, though, despite Reel being 434 pages long, my main comment is that I could still have used more! We never see the movie get finished, and I really wanted to see Neevah take on some of the musical scenes left in the shooting calendar. I understand that Ryan’s message in the book is that the people around you are more important than the story you take on, but I at least wanted to know that it all came together. There is also apparently an epilogue about Canon and Neevah which is available by email; I wanted that included with the main story.
I want to leave this review with Neevah’s reflections on Canon’s mother, whose journey with a chronic illness resonates with Neevah and her lupus diagnosis:
Hers was a race that had already been decided, a race against time, but the beauty was in how she ran. And I think that’s the point. Every single one of us is in that race, and a race against time is one you’ll never win.
But how will you run?
Kennedy Ryan is running very well indeed.
Buy it at: Amazon, Audible or your local independent retailer
Visit our Amazon Storefront
I'm a history geek and educator, and I've lived in five different countries in North America, Asia, and Europe. In addition to the usual subgenres, I'm partial to YA, Sci-fi/Fantasy, and graphic novels. I love to cook.