Adriana Trigiani is very well known for her women's fiction. Viola in Reel Life, a YA novel, is quite a departure from that but there are still similarities in the writing and especially in the characterizations. Most adult reader fans of Trigiani's will have no trouble at all reading this and making it a cross-over title.
The story opens with Viola feeling abandoned by her filmmaker parents at an all girls' boarding school in Indiana. Viola is completely unhappy with the situation because she defines herself as a New Yorker and an aspiring filmmaker. Being dropped off in a cornfield is not her idea of fun. She is determined to be unhappy and to make certain that everyone knows it, which does not get her off on the right foot with her roommates. Her best friend back home, Andrew, sympathizes as best as he's able through IM chats and e-mail.
Viola spends a lot of time documenting her experience at Prefect Academy and eventually realizes that she can choose to make the best of her situation or she can mope and be miserable for a year. Choosing to spread her wings, she becomes close friends with her roommates, meets a boy at the brother school, and creates a short film to enter into a big competition. Along the way, she learns that not only is life what you make of it but that there's a lot more to things than just their surface appearance. And it is this experience in delving deeper that causes her to grow as a character and a filmmaker.
This is a sweet story of a girl on the brink of growing up. There are moments when the dialogue is a bit stilted and slightly unnatural sounding, especially between the roommates but that is easily passed over. Like in Trigiani's other books, there is a fun and eccentric character, here it is Viola's wacky actress grandmother. She adds not only a bit of the "good crazies" into the plot but also offers Viola a dose of serious reality when she chooses to come out of character. The average reader will spin through this light and entertaining read. Tame enough for middle grade readers, this is a nice departure from the "mean girls" cult that YA literature has enshrined lately so those older girls who are tired of reading about back stabbing and nastiness will find this a welcome relief.
Thanks to Book Club Girl and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book so I could participate in the author interview on Blog Talk Radio.