Viola in Reel Life by Adriana Trigiani
Series: Viola in Reel Life #1
Release Date: Sept. 2009
Being at a boarding school in South Bend, Indiana is not Viola's idea of paradise. Stuck in what she considers the middle-of-nowhere, Viola is far from the home and friends she loves in Brooklyn, New York. Yet, like it or not, she’s stuck there for a year while her parents film a documentary overseas. Slow to warm to her new settings, Viola is determined to keep her distance as she hides her video camera. But with a little help from her roommates, she’ll soon discover that a year at boarding school isn’t as bad as it seems. In fact, it may even be one of the best years of her life!
Before I even begin, I should probably put a disclaimer on this review. I grew up in the South Bend area and it has been my home for the past 20 years. When I first heard about Viola in Reel Life I was so excited to see a YA book set in my hometown. Yet, the thing I was most ecstatic about ended up being the thing that made me extremely dislike the book. Trigiani paints a horribly inaccurate picture of South Bend. Yes, I will admit, that the city can be a little boring, but we are far, far from being a hick town. I know where Trigiani pulled her references from (mainly the St. Mary’s/Notre Dame area), but I felt it was such a poor representation of South Bend. And the more digs that were made about the city, the more I felt my hackles raising. I have tried my hardest not to let that shade my opinion of Viola in Reel Life, but honestly it was a factor. It was very hard to immerse myself into a world that I felt was unrealistic.
Ok, now that that’s out of the way, I’m trying to gather my thoughts on how to voice my other dislikes. I think the best way is to break it down rather than trying to make it flow all nicely together. It’ll be a break from how I normally do things, but will probably stop me from burying the good under the bad. (And if you guys find you like this format, maybe I’ll take it on more!)
Plot: Cute idea. I really liked the storyline of a girl discovering who she was in the least likely place, but frankly not a lot happens. I mean, really, nothing happens. She gets shipped off to boarding school, makes some friends, has a little romance, makes a movie, and then goes home. Nothing earth shattering, right? But then again it wasn’t really meant to be. Stepping out of one’s comfort zone doesn’t have to be all about being wild and crazy. It’s about adapting and find that inner strength you didn’t realize you had. That’s really what Viola in Reel Life is all about, so it’s understandable that there is very little going on.
Characters: At times I found Viola highly annoying. She was quite whiny and self-centered, but then what 9th grader isn’t? It was totally normal teenager behavior, but it did grow tiresome at times. I really wish Trigiani would have shifted the focus to include the roommates more than she did. It was in those characters that I found myself being the most interested in and wanting more of. Although, I have a sneaky suspicion that Trigiani did that on purpose to leave openings for a series. I can totally see her letting each character have their own book. There were a few things that really nagged me, but I do think the characters were believable and quite likable.
Romance: This is both a love and a hate. I adored the cute romance that developed between Viola and Jared. It was fun reading how they worked seeing each other even though they went to different boarding schools in different towns. There were even times that I found myself going awww at. I mean really, he started out at the perfect high school dream boyfriend with snowy kisses, perfect gifts, and lovey text messages. Like I said, ideal perfect high school boyfriend, right? But then…then I don’t know what really happens. The scenes between them at the Film Festival are so out of character that it felt forced. I’m sure that you can chalk it up to stress and competition, but it felt like a complete 180 with no warning signs! And then how she handles it is completely mind blowing. I have never seen a high school girl handle a break up that well, especially not when it’s her first! Where were the tears and drowning sorrows in ice cream? Ok, ok, I know that’s cliche-ish, but I just wish there had been more emotion to it. It just made the whole relationship feel like a piece of sweater fuzz that was being flicked away.
Oh, and then there’s the thing with Andrew. I know there’s no actual dating here, but there were sure hints of the best friends wanting more at every turn. But how convenient was it for him to get and lose a girlfriend the same time as Viola? I’m still not sure if I’m supposed to believe this actually happened or if Andrew just made it up. I keep thinking he just made it up, but with all conversations being through IMs it’s really hard to tell. Could it have been a jealousy-I-won’t-look-like-I’m-pining type thing? I mean he did seem a little jealous and tended to cut any conversation about Jared short. So, yeah, I really don’t know. If anyone else has read the book I would love to hear your thoughts on this relationship!
Writing: The only issue I really have is with the pacing. There were times that the scenes felt a little too drawn out and then others when they felt they ended abruptly. I found myself on several occasions turning the page and expecting more of the conversation only to find a whole new scene; every time I just felt like there was more to the scene that needed to be told. And it wasn’t just little scenes here or there either. The pacing as a whole was the same way. A good portion of the book (read over half) is set mainly in September to December. Then BAM, there’s only a paragraph or so mentioning how fast time flies and then we’re in March and at the film festival. Shortly after that she’s heading home. I understand reading about Viola editing her film may have been a little boring, but it seemed so out of balance. I think if the scenes would have been spread out a little bit more, it would have flowed so much better.
Librarian-Mode: Can I still market this to teens? YES! I could easily sell it to middle school girls as a read-alike to the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Those looking for a quick, fun read will most likely eat this up. And really, most younger teens will not even notice the things that really nagged me. (I really blame this on being an English Major!) And for those who have never been to South Bend, the setting will be as believable as the next. Although, I am wondering how South Bend teens will take to it. I plan to pass my ARC off to a friend who works with troubled teens and will definitely be interested in hearing their reactions!
So there you have it! I know I’m in the minority in disliking this book, but it is what it is. While it wasn’t my cup of tea, it may be yours! And, as always, if you’ve read Viola in Reel Life, what did you think?