Title: Viola in Reel Life
Author: Adriana Trigiani
Hardcover: 256 pages
When fourteen-year-old Viola is sent from her beloved Brooklyn to boarding school in Indiana for ninth grade, she overcomes her initial reservations as she makes friends with her roommates, goes on a real date, and uses the unsettling ghost she keeps seeing as the subject of a short film her first.
- Overall rating: 8/10 flowers
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. If you would like to learn more about Viola in Reel Life, check out HarperTEEN's Viola in Reel Life website, where you can read the first fifty-seven pages for free. You can also visit Adriana Trigiani's website, facebook, fan page, or twitter.