Thursday, October 29, 2009

Review: Princess Snark

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Reasons I may like YA fiction: Maybe it’s because I don’t believe my interests have changed much since I was about 14. Maybe it’s the jaded adult in me looking back wistfully at a simpler time. Or maybe it’s that I’m trying live my teen years vicariously, now instead of then, because I thought I was far above juvenile behavior when I was, in fact, juvenile. I still don’t consider high school that far away, but the more YA novels I read, especially this one, I’m starting to realize [egads!] that it was. I’ve turned into the sensible adult that I always said never understand the complex mind of a teen.

Adriana Trigiani makes her YA novel debut with Viola in Reel Life. Viola is a 14-year old Brooklyn native who lives behind her camera, a trait inherited from her documentary filmmaker parents. When mom and dad head to Afghanistan for a year, Viola is sent to Prefect Academy, an all-girl boarding school in South Bend, Indiana. It’s a nightmare for Viola–being dragged away from her friends and beloved New York City, sharing a room with four strangers. Despite a miserable first day, Viola decides her time isn’t worth being spent miserable, and the pending year suddenly looks brighter as she makes new friends, finds her niche, and even acquires a boyfriend.

This book definitely makes certain you know it’s a YA book. The first 50-100 pages are saturated with timely yet unnecessary teen references. The Jonas Brothers, BlackBerries, Audrina from the Hills…sure, maybe they’re relevant right now, but in 10 years (and let’s be honest, probably more like 2), it’s going to seem incredibly dated. I blame the editor for this. It’s not like Trigiani is a new author, and though I’ve never read her other books, I’m pretty sure they are still rather popular. I can’t imagine them littered with pop culture that instantly take away their “timeless” potential. Maybe the editor thought this was the necessary step to put her writing in the YA category, but I think it was a weak move. It’s a good thing the presence of these references leveled off early in the book.
Overall, the pace of the story was slow but not in a bad way. It kept me entertained, especially as Viola gets involved in the production of her own first film. She is a character I hope teen girls would enjoy reading; she has culture and class, a wry and humorous personality, and artistic quirk, but she also has a little bit of that self-involved brattiness [Viola is the self-described Princess Snark] that makes her both a real and relatable character. She learns from her mistakes and tries to make the best of most situations, which I think are commendable characteristics in a 14-year-old girl.
Plus, this story was fun. It didn’t try to define teens as older than they really should be; it wasn’t saturated with the sex and drama that seem to unnecessarily (and unrealistically) pop up in YA media. It describes a girl trying to define herself and adjust to a new setting. Tidbits felt a little unrealistic in the way characters seemed to so gracefully handle difficult situations, but that could just be the jaded adult in me.
I’m pretty sure I found this book while browsing for others like The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, which I loved. Do you have any good YA suggestions?

1 comment:

Salvatore said…

Peter Cameron is a pretty good YA author, although I don't think that's a fair description of him.

I think the reason I enjoy cartoons and animation now is because I'm regressing, as I also feel I had a more mature childhood.