08/25/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT
By Andrew O'Hagan
As child-star train wrecks go, Drew Barrymore
has nothing on Maria Tambini. With a soulful voice and natural poise, Maria rises to stardom at 13 after winning a talent search on the TV program Opportunity Knocks
. Leaving her Italian-immigrant family behind on the tiny Scottish isle of Bute, she heads to London to begin a new life in showbiz. Yet the pressures of celebrity soon drag her into self-loathing and starvation.
A novel based closely on the true story of Lena Zavaroni, a Scottish child star who died of anorexia in 1999, Personality
lays bare the darker side of fame with astonishing empathy. Lovingly crafted vignettes narrated by different players in Maria's life gradually come together to form a complex portrait of the young woman's compulsive battle against her body and her ultimate redemption. (Harcourt, $25)
BOTTOM LINE: Shining look at stardom