Friday, February 20, 2015

Review: Girl Before a Mirror by Liza Palmer

You'd think in this day and age that women and their contributions would no longer be undervalued. But this is not the case. Just look at the Sony leak that disclosed salary gaps between female and male executives, female and male actors. Closer to home (for me), look at the imbalance in publishing. Jonathan Franzen accused Jennifer Weiner of "freeloading on the legitimate problem of gender bias." Even in female targeted publications and sites, Franzen is always characterized as a serious, literary novelist while Weiner is inevitably described as a popular (read lesser and certainly not to be taken seriously) novelist who writes chick lit in this ongoing exchange. Look at the demeaning obituary for Colleen McCullough as compared to any recently deceased male authors. Look at the numbers collected by VIDA Count every year about the gender imbalance of reviews in major literary publications. This undervaluing still happens and it happens across the board, not just in the industries currently in the news. Liza Palmer's newest novel, Girl Before a Mirror not only tackles this reality but it does it ironically enough, in a book with the girliest of covers and from firmly within the chick lit/women's fiction category, perhaps in hopes of inspiring its very audience to recognize and rise above the marginalization and to force change.

Anna Wyatt is 40, divorced, and works in advertising. Leaving her birthday party, she heads over the a strip club to ambush her boss into letting her make a pitch for a shower gel. Lumineux shower gel was the product that originally launched Quincy Pharmaceuticals and Anna sees winning the bid for it as her shoe in the door to the rest of Quincy, an account her current company does not own. What her boss doesn't know is that Lumineux is not asking for pitches, that Anna has just brazened her way into a meeting. But it works and she just might win the campaign, which she and her art director, Sasha, have created around a best-selling book and the romance industry. Before the people in charge make a final decision though, they want Anna and Sasha to attend RomanceCon to help get the Romance Cover Model of the Year on board with Anna and Sasha's vision.

It is while Anna is at the convention that she realizes the true value and power of women and what they want. She has to deal with Sasha's insecurity because although amazingly talented and intelligent, Sasha is gorgeous and has no confidence in anything but her universally acknowledged sex appeal. Anna's younger brother Ferdie, the only person to show her unconditional love, is arrested at home and she is too far away to bail him out. Audrey, the daughter of the ad agency's boss, is all of a sudden horning in on a campaign she hasn't designed and doesn't know, stepping on Anna and Sasha in the process. Anna has met the most incredible man ever and can't think what's going to happen when she heads home. And all of this swirls around as Anna tries to land the biggest, most important account of her life. RomanceCon is just about the most confusing week ever for Anna.

Palmer has taken the bones of a traditional chick lit and used them to full advantage to write a story that really celebrates women. Anna as a character comes to understand that her dismissal of a women's product because it is seen as less than hurts her, devalues her own strengths, and has larger repercussions for all women. Palmer has more than one type of business woman present in the novel, the kind who will step on others in order to advance and the kind who appreciates the idea of mentoring other women to empower an entire gender, and it is always clear which is the type to which successful women should aspire. Lincoln Mallory, Anna's love interest is perhaps a bit too perfect and understanding but the idea that Anna must focus on finding her own happiness without regard to Lincoln, helps ease this unrealistic characterization some. The additional story lines of Ferdie's addiction, Anna's childhood striving for love she was never granted, and the look into the world of romance novels and their fans combine to round out Anna's life, making her realistic and sympathetic. An enjoyable book about a woman finding love for herself, and finding the strength and confidence to realize her own self-worth, this was incredibly topical and I hope it inspires other women to stop worrying about marginalization but to make the formerly marginalized products, books, and so forth a force to be reckoned with.

Thanks to LibraryThing Early Reviewers and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.


  1. Sounds like a book that my library would get ;) But the website is closed for a week *makes a note of them name*

  2. great review! This was not my favorite book by the author - I felt there were a few too many story lines but I agree did like the theme of learning your own self-worth and seeing Anna triumph.

  3. I haven't read this one yet, but I can't wait! I skimmed your review until I've had a chance to read it, then I will come back and read it!

  4. I enjoyed it and can't wait to read more of Palmer's books. She tells a good story, doesn't she?

  5. I would totally have written this one off based on the cover, which just goes to show how much I eschew chick lit.

    This one does sound inspiring. I always pause at the idea of "not worrying about marginalization" and just trying to move beyond it, though. Do you think it's possible? It seems like a convenient way for those in power to turn the conversation back around to blaming the woman (or other minority group) for not working hard enough to "rise up." I'm not sure that's what you meant by that statement, so this certainly isn't an attack—just a thought!


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