Synopsis: Viola just moved into her boarding school Prefect Academy. Her parents are film makers going to Afganistan. She’s following their footsteps with the fascination behind the camera. She just moved from Brooklyn to South Bend, Indiana… a slight culture shock happening. Her roommates are Marisol, a Mexican from Richmond, Va (REPRESENT!), Romy, an athlete with multiple parents, and Suzanne, a gorgeous girl who cries herself to sleep while saying it’s all about attitude during the day. Viola is miserable and scared, but realizes that she needs her roommates when she goes down to the cafeteria and can’t find anyone to sit with. So, they become BFF.
Viola’s making a film diary of her life at school. She shoots some scenic shots. Later, while she watches the blue Indiana skies, a woman with blonde hair and a red dress is in her shot. Viola gets creeped out because she knows the lady wasn’t in the shot before. Normal school stuff occurs. She does video chats with her parents and with her buddies from Brooklyn, Andrew and Caitlin. She shows Andrew and Caitlin her video shots of the lady in red. They’re as baffled as she is. She doesn’t show her roommates– she doesn’t want them to think she’s crazy.
The school goes to a dance sponsored by the boys’ boarding school a town over. Viola meets Jared Spencer, a filmmaker. They film some stuff, and they share a couple kisses. The girls go over to Suzanne’s for Thanksgiving in Chicago. Suzanne has two gorgeous brothers, Kevin, who’s “college cute” and Joe is “man cute.” Suzanne’s dad also has MS, which she never told the roomies about, so they get all emotional and supportive. They go to the Chicago Institute of Art, and Viola looks at the Movie History section, where she finds the lady in red. (She tells her roommates at this point that she is, in fact, crazy.) They do some research on her, May McGlynn. She died in a plane crash in South Bend, Indiana (where Prefect Academy is) on her way to shoot a movie. May’s life ends up being the subject for Viola’s short film for a contest. Suzanne gets to play May, Marisol does costume design and Romy does production. Jared is in the contest too, doing a film on organic farming.
Viola gets told last minute by her parents that they aren’t coming home for Christmas, but Grand (her actress grandmother) will come to South Bend to spend the holiday with her. Marisol also has to stay at the school. When Viola complains that her parents don’t care, Grand chews her out by saying they’re having financial issues so shut up and quit complaining. Grand and her new boy toy help Viola with the film. Actually, after everyone gets back from the holiday, they’re all helping with the film. It turns out fantastic, other than the RA chewing some scenery while reporting May’s death. Jared’s film sucks, and is very dry. Viola wins second place. Jared is a loser and puts down all the winners, so Viola dumps him gleefully by informing him his movie had no heart. Um, other than some tension between Viola and BFFAA Andrew during the book, that’s it. She passes 9th grade and goes home. The end.
I’ve read two books of Adriana Trigani: Big Stone Gap and its sequel Big Cherry Holler. I loved Big Stone Gap; my grandma is from there so I felt a bond and the characters were wonderful. I couldn’t get through Big Cherry Holler; I hate books where a wife is getting blamed for her husband cheating, especially by characters I loved before. I read about half-way and got reviews from others before I gave up, so I’m not sure if the implied cheating was real or imaginary, but it sounded real from the reviews and what I may have skipped ahead to read. (I’ve given up on a total of 4 books in my life: Forever Amber, Moll Flanders, Brisingr, and Big Cherry Holler. It’s a big deal when I stop reading.) For me, she’s a hit-or-miss.
I have quite a bit to say, because page seven annoyed the heck out of me. I started taking notes on this from the beginning (which makes my blogging a lot easier– who knew?) This is a SNARKY review. My apologies in advance. Just as I said Trigani’s a hit or miss, this book is a hit-and-miss. She had some AWESOME lines, she had some lines that were like, OMG SHE CAN’T BE SERIOUS. The story is sweet but mediocre, the film part was kinda cool but otherwise– meh. So, snark on, shall I?
I’ll start off by saying she dates the book big time. This was published September 2009. Viola’s first video diary is September 3, 2009. Which means it would have mostly been dated the minute it was published, since she had to start writing in ’08 and finish early ’09 or so. TV shows can do that (looking at you, 30 Rock!), books cannot. Here are the following pop culture references I noticed (not all, but the significant ones): Jonas Brothers, “Vote for Pedro”, Gossip Girl, and Rick Astley. I’ll do you one better on the Rick Astley: Viola’s mom went to the school in 1983. She tells Viola when she went to the dance at the boys’ school, all the boys had Rick Astley haircuts. Rick Astley wasn’t even in a band until 1985, and he made “Never Gonna Give you Up” in 1987. I got that from Wikepedia, so it’s not like it’s too hard to research that. The haircut may not have been an Astley original and may have been popular in 1983 (my only explanation for a gaff like that). The point I’m trying to make is, in five years, will this book be relevant? She’s trying too hard to be cool now, and not timeless. Another example of trying too hard to be cool is “BFFAA”, which stands for Best Friends Forever and Always. I’ve never heard it or seen it while I’ve worked with middle schoolers. If a real person can tell me for a fact this is what middle school girls say, I’ll accept this. Otherwise, you’re trying too hard.
My main complaint with the book is the way she characterizes places. Here’s the quote on page seven that annoyed me to no end:
Everything I see makes me long for home. I wonder what color the sky is in New York. It’s never this shade of blue. This is cheap eye shadow blue, whereas New York skies have a lot of indigo in them. When the moon rises in Indiana, I bet it will be a cheesy silver color, but at home, it’s golden: 24K and so big, it throws ribbon of glitter over Cobble Hill. I can already tell there’s no glitter in Indiana.
Ok, I’ll admit, I’ve been to Indiana a couple times and New York once. Indiana is pretty flat and glitter-less– my buddies who live there call Indianapolis “Nap Town” after all. The skies are clear, probably the powdery blue she’s talking about– the blue that city folks can’t believe when they visit the country. But I’m not buying the Brooklyn moon thing. I highly doubt it’s the moon throwing glitter onto Brooklyn. Also, this sophisticated New Yorker says she “hollered” in the middle of an assembly. “Hollered?” I didn’t know that was in Yankee vocabularies. (If it is, sorry, but you have to admit, it sounds odd from someone from Brooklyn. This was from pages where she was reminding us of this fact every page or two. “Holla”, maybe, but not “hollered.”)
I’m originally a Richmond, Va girl, and Marisol is from outside of Richmond “where they don’t have a lot of Mexicans.” Look, I know Richmond isn’t California or Texas on the Hispanic population, but we’re pretty culturally diverse. Living “outside of Richmond” is really vague. Are we talking Chesterfield Co, Henrico Co, or Hanover Co? If she says “Hanover,” I won’t give her any trouble, they’re kinda bland (my cousins who live there, my apologies, but you know it’s the truth.) C-field and Henrico, though, have a pretty decent racial variety so I call BS on Trig. I will give Marisol credit, she loves her hometown. 😀
(2008 Stats: US Hispanic Population: 15.4%; Richmond: 4.9% —all of Va 6.8%, Texas 36.5%. While I realize 4.9% isn’t a lot, the majority of Va’s Hispanic population is in Richmond– so I think you’ll make it, Marisol.)
Something else randomly stupid: The RA took Marisol to the infirmary for a case of carpal tunnel syndrome. Is this for serious? I mean, she’s a high school freshman, I didn’t know that was an option to go to the nurse for carpal tunnel. It’s probably not, but a great excuse: “Sorry, Ms. T– I have carpal tunnel and couldn’t finish my paper.”
Some moments and quotes I enjoyed (I had a couple!):
- Describing Viola’s best bud Andrew, who is a middle child, “The bookends of the happy family squeeze out the middle like too much jelly between slices of Wonder bread.”
- Viola has a Clueless Cher moment, dreaming of a make-over for her teacher. Dear God, that’s going to be me… (the teacher to be made over by a 14 year old, not the make over dreamer).
- “I’m beginning to understand that there is only now, and even though now isn’t perfect… that of all the billions of places I could be, this is what I’ve got right now.” I love that she finally came to this conclusion. It’s a great way to look at life and where you’re at, at that moment.
- “What Mom never told me was that along the way, you find sisters, and they find you. Girls are cool that way.” Girl power!
The Class Stuff:
Grades: 7-9 is what the School Library Journal pegged it as, so I’m going with that. Nothing controversial, no cussing or sex.
Grade: I can’t believe I’m doing this… C-/D+.
I think middle school kids today would like this. It’s all about girl power, friendships, and doing what you can with what you’ve got. Some reviews said it’s a character-driven, sweet story, and I guess it is. However, it won’t hold up in a couple years. I can see it going in a time capsule: “this is when I knew which Jonas brothers were which.” She tried too hard to be cool to write for a teenage audience, and it’s awkward. I give Trigiani some redeeming points with the Wonderbread line and the “there’s only now” line, but otherwise, it’s rough.
If I didn’t know anything about what she was talking about, it may be a better review. The only problem is, things sounded funny to me and I googled it immediately. It’s easy to do research to find culturally accurate things– sure, Viola’s been Rick-rolled, but her mother’s peers in 1983 wouldn’t have copied Astley’s haircut if he wasn’t popular until late ’87. I just finished a beautifully researched novel of Louisa May Alcott. I am reading a beautifully researched book for Children’s Lit on immigration to America, published long before AOL. I have a hard time accepting something that can’t get pop culture straight when the internet is at your disposal.
Sorry for the negative review, but on the bright side, I was able to finish this one! Other people gave shining 4-star reviews, so if you’re not happy with mine, check theirs out.