Book Review: Viola in Reel Life by Adriana Trigiani
Viola loves her life in Brooklyn with her quirky filmmaker parents. Unfortunately, they need to go to Afghanistan to make a documentary and have dumped her in an Indiana boarding school for a year. Can Viola see past her homesickness and embrace what Prefect Academy has to offer or will she be Queen Snark for a year?
I came at this book simultaneously expecting to like it and not like it. I expected to like it, because when I was in the YA age group, I loved boarding school books, and I’ve read Trigiani’s Big Stone Gap trilogy and really liked her writing. On the other hand, reviews online stated they disliked it due to a negative portrayal of Indiana and what they felt was a lack of understanding of teenagers. Well, I liked Viola in Reel Life, and I would like to offer up rebuttals to both opinions.
First, the book is written from Viola’s perspective. She’s a fourteen year old who has spent her entire life in Brooklyn, and she didn’t want to go to boarding school. Her negative comments about Indiana are to be expected in this case. She’s a New Yorker in the country for the first time. Of course she’s going to think the fashion stinks. Of course she’s going to miss the noise of the city. Personally, I found Indiana and the folks in it to be portrayed in a positive light, because despite her anger and snark, they persist at comforting her homesickness and winning her over. She comes to like aspects of Indiana just as much as she likes aspects of Brooklyn. That is a key part of her growing up that is the main storyline. She has to learn to make home wherever she is and be independent. That point would not have come across strongly if she loved everything about Indiana from the moment she arrived.
Now to those who felt it was too young for teenagers, I think you’re starting to fall for the media’s portrayal of all teens as growing up very fast. They’re not all having sex, doing drugs, and drinking. I wasn’t that type of teen, and even teens who are can appreciate that not everyone is living a Gossip Girl life. It is a clean book, and I liked that because it left room for me to focus on Viola growing as a person. The kids are kind of innocent, and Viola acknowledges that she’s led a protected life so far. On the other hand, Viola and her friends have to deal with step-parents, new siblings, serious family illness, money problems, and more. Their problems are middle class type problems, but what’s wrong with that? Not everyone grows up abused or poor or filthy rich or debaucherous. The overall messages are excellent ones for teen girls to hear–be loyal to your friends, grow up and help your parents, don’t choose a boy over yourself, do your best and be gracious. Plus the storyline supporting these messages is fun and interesting to read.
My only complaint with the book is the minor sub-plot of a ghost. I don’t think it really fit in very well with the overall world and feel of the book. I would have much preferred that Viola find an old diary or something that made her come to understand Prefect Academy better. However, it wasn’t in the book enough to make me dislike the story.
Overall, it’s a fun read, and I recommend it if you enjoy YA lit or stories set in boarding schools.
4 out of 5 stars
Source: Won on Reading Sarah’s blog. Thanks!