The Eager Readers, July 8, 2010 (view all comments by The Eager Readers)
Adriana Trigiani's Viola in Reel Life is a sweet coming-of-age story about a fourteen year old from Brooklyn who finds herself adjusting to life at a boarding school in Indiana. I tend to gravitate toward the fantasy/sci-fi/paranormal books in the YA section and generally prefer YA novels with an older protagonist, so I was surprised to find myself enjoying this book as much as I did. I enjoyed Viola's narrative voice as well as the humor and simplicity of the story, and it reminded me of contemporary YA novels that I enjoyed as a middle grade reader.
What I Liked:
- Viola's personality. She is confident and talented, and she always makes her passion (film-making) a priority. Of course, she is also a typical fourteen year old girl, so she spends a fair amount of time making snarky comments, thinking about clothes and boys, and being a bit too self-absorbed for her own good.
- One moment that clearly illustrates what I liked most about this book occurs when the boarding school girls are on their way to meet some boarding school boys at their first school dance, Viola thinks:
"Ever since the Founder's Day show, I feel very calm about who I am - as if I found a way to express myself that is truthful and authentic. It's the only way I can say it. I loved being creative and seeing my ideas realized in front of an audience. I'm not afraid of anything, not even boys. Awkward? Okay, maybe. But afraid? I have nothing to be afraid of. I know who I am. And if a boy doesn't like it? Well, too bad for him."
- Viola is a high school freshman, and I liked that her story was much more about appreciating supportive friends and exploring her own interests than it was about chasing after the hottie-of-the-week or tearing down her female classmates mean-girls-style. Even when she does begin to pursue her first romantic relationship with a boy, they are drawn to one another primarily because of their shared interest in film-making.
- There is a lot of humor in this story, and it is not comedy of the slapstick variety that can wear thin very quickly in middle grade or contemporary YA novels. Instead, the humor is rooted in Viola's witty, observant personality.
- Adriana Trigiani's writing is enjoyably casual, with an easy rhythm and comfortable pace. It is written in first person present tense, and both the dialogue and Viola's narration flow smoothly.
What I Wished:
- I wanted a bit more tension. Viola's roommates are all sweet, optimistic, and understanding. Her parents and grandmother love her dearly. Her two best friends back in Brooklyn are thoughtful and supportive. While all those friendly and kind individuals helped make Viola in Reel Life a fast, cheerful read, they also made Viola's life seem slightly too charmed and kept this book from being much of a page-turner. With no real villain and no strong conflict, the story doesn't have quite enough suspense or tension.
- I would have enjoyed seeing more of Viola's best friend Andrew on the page. Every time I began to think that we were about to hear more from him, he would essentially drop out of the story for another chapter or two.
This is a light and innocent coming-of-age story about a fourteen year old girl's first experiences away from home when she is forced to adjust to life at a boarding school in Indiana. While I am not always a fan of contemporary YA novels, I still found myself enjoying Viola in Reel Life quite a lot. Viola's entertaining personality and Adriana Trigiani's heartfelt and humorous writing style makes this book a quick and pleasant summer read. It is the type of book I would have liked a lot as a middle grade reader, and I would recommend it to fans of contemporary YA novels like Maureen Johnson's Suite Scarlett or Deb Caletti's Honey, Baby, Sweetheart. I look forward to reading some of Adriana Trigiani's non-YA novels.
lovewriter, April 3, 2010 (view all comments by lovewriter)
From the moment I first "met" almost-fifteen-year-old Viola, I felt as though I were sitting in a big comfy chair, hearing about her unexpected friendships and first love (which she adorably kept me up to date on her romance scorecard; 3 kisses, one cookie, etc) at Perfect Academy. This is an inspirational book that people of all ages should love because it focuses on one thing; following your dreams and making them happen.
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Harper Teen -
"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"Trigiani (Big Stone Gap) takes the familiar boarding school milieu and gives it some welcome nuance and a refreshingly grounded feel in her debut YA work, first in a proposed series. To her horror, 14-year-old aspiring filmmaker Viola Chesterton is forced to leave her family, her funky Brooklyn neighborhood and her 'Best Friend Forever And Always' Andrew to spend her freshman year at Prefect Academy for Young Women in South Bend, Ind. But Viola soon finds much to like in her new roommates and rural campus, chronicling her experiences in a video diary. While the story of Viola's blossoming may seem slow to readers used to students who are training to be spies or developing crushes on vampires, Trigiani offers a realistic look at the ever-shifting bonds of friendship and the adjustment to one's first taste of life away from home. Viola's reflections on the sisterhood of girlfriends and the importance of girls standing up for themselves are resonant but never cheerleaderish. Trigiani uses Viola's droll humor and a colorful supporting cast to great effect, ensuring that readers will want to know what happens to them in future volumes. Ages 12 — up. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Left to rot in boarding school . . .
Viola doesn't want to go to boarding school, but somehow she ends up at an all-girls school in South Bend, Indiana, far, far away from her home in Brooklyn, New York. Now Viola is stuck for a whole year in the sherbet-colored sweater capital of the world.
There's no way Viola's going to survive the year--especially since she has to replace her best friend Andrew with three new roommates who, disturbingly, actually seem to like it there. She resorts to viewing the world (and hiding) behind the lens of her video camera.
Boarding school, though, and her roommates and even the Midwest are nothing like she thought they would be, and soon Viola realizes she may be in for the most incredible year of her life.
But first she has to put the camera down and let the world in.
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