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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Trigiani's YA Novel Needs A Little Spice, Spice, Baby

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Viola Chesterton knows she's never going to fit in at Prefect Academy for Young Women. She's more than a fish out of water - she's a fashion-forward filmmaker from Brooklyn who doesn't do happy, abandoned among preppy, peppy girls in sherbert-colored twin sets. In South Bend, Indiana, of all places. All she wants is to return to Brooklyn, but of course, she can't. Her parents rented out the family home and jetted off to Afghanistan to shoot a documentary about women's rights. Thus, her current predicament.

When Viola in Reel Life by Adriana Trigiani opens, our angsty heroine has resigned herself to a long, lonely year at Prefect (or "the waiting room of hell itself" [24] as she prefers to call it). At least she's got her camera - she can chronicle her misadventures in a video diary, edit the footage and send it off to her faraway friends and family. Uploading her preliminary shots gives her a shock, a first indicator that her freshman year at Prefect might hold some surprises yet. To her astonishment, she finds her roommates becoming family; a cute filmmaker becoming her boyfriend; and the school she despises becoming a sort of refuge. Sure, she misses her family; her BFF back home seems ... distant; and then, of course, there's the ghost. Is she getting messages from beyond the grave or just missing home so much she's hallucinating? A school competition gives her the chance to find the answers, prove herself as a filmmaker, and win back the affections of the two boys she most wants to impress. Will Viola succeed? And how will the most difficult year of her life play out?

First off, I have to say that I admire Trigiani for trying something different. Not only is this her first YA novel, but it's also a giant leap away from her trademark Trigiani Trifecta (Italian families, Italian food and New York fashion). A little bit of Italian spice is sprinkled here and there, but Viola in Reel Life is basically a flavorless story about a semi-interesting (non-Italian) Everygirl navigating through her first year away from home. It's sweet, but slow, unfocused and just kind of ... blah. It needs some (okay, lots) of Trigiani's signature spice to stand out. The book seems lost without it.

Even though I've found her last couple books a little disappointing, I still love Trigiani. She writes with great warmth, especially about families. You can feel that closeness with Viola, her roommates, and their kin. None of the characters are particularly well-developed, but at least you can feel a bond between them. I liked that about the book, but otherwise, it was just really hard for me to get into. Maybe it's my fault - I was expecting a teen version of Big Stone Gap - but this one was just too bland for me. My advice to Trigiani? Spice, spice, baby.

Grade: C

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG


  1. Your title of this post had me giggling...very cute!

  2. Although I haven't read any other novels by Trigiani, you perfectly summed up my experience of 'Viola in Reel Life'. The cover looked so awesome and the blurb too, but I found it way to slow and although the characters were nice it lacked something (don't know what though...).


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