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REVIEW: Violet by Design by Melissa Walker

Dear Ms. Walker,

While I’ve read and enjoyed novels about supermodels in the past, I was a bit leery when I received your book. On one hand, I’m fascinated by the fashion industry. On the other hand, I hate the message it sends to teenaged girls about body image and here we have a young adult novel about an up and rising teenaged model. Add to that the unavoidable cattiness we see on shows like America’s Next Top Model, and I just didn’t know what to expect. Thankfully, not only did this book neatly sidestep the easy path of backstabbing cattiness, it turned out the main character had many of the same concerns I did.

Violet Greenfield was once a high school social outcast. Being too tall and too thin, she was just never able to fit in. Boys didn’t want to date a girl taller than them and the popular clique wouldn’t give her the time of day. That all changed during senior year when she was discovered and signed with a modeling agency. But her splash into the high stakes world of international modeling proved too overwhelming and she quit. Violet has since graduated and is spending the summer with longtime best friends Julie and Roger before they leave for college when she’s lured back to the modeling world by a trip to Brazil for Fashion Week.

Violet is surprisingly easy to sympathize with. She has all the same insecurities you’d expect in a teenaged girl on the verge of adulthood. She wants to find true love but that’s easier said than done. The fashion world’s full of playboys and men out to use you for their latest promotional campaign, and it can be hard to differentiate between them and those who are genuine. She wants to see and experience the world and modeling is a good way to do that, but it also means choosing between her burgeoning career and her friends. I found that conflict compelling since most college students don’t have that problem, which makes it easy to empathize with Violet when it becomes obvious she can’t rely on her friends for career advice.

But most of all, I liked how Violet struggled with body image and its place in the modeling world. I thought it was very realistic when her quick blog entries on MySpace ended up splashed across headlines and sparked an international controversy. Over the past few weeks, we’ve been talking about Foot in Mouth Disease here at Dear Author and while Violet’s blog entries weren’t examples of FiMD, they definitely caused a media frenzy. It only drove home the point you never know who’s reading and now considered a model, anything Violet writes on her MySpace blog ends up being taken as the words of a model. It’s a lot of responsibility for an eighteen year old from a small North Carolina town. It’s hard enough being in the spotlight and being forced into the role of spokesperson. It’s even harder when you’re struggling between advancing your career and staying true to your beliefs. I thought Violet landing a campaign encouraging positive body image for teenage girls and then being asked to lose weight to be their cover girl embodied the heart and soul of her struggle.

I have a weakness for friends becoming more storylines so I was delighted by Violet and Roger’s relationship. In fact, watching Violet come to the realization that Roger has always been in love with her and that perhaps she has always felt the same way too was so enjoyable, I wanted more of it. But I suppose that’s what series are for, and I have the first book to occupy my attention in the mean time while I wait for the next book. B

My regards,
Jia

This book can be purchased in trade market.   Its official release date is March 4, 2008.

Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at [email protected]!

8 Comments

  1. Kathleen MacIver
    Feb 28, 2008 @ 08:22:40

    Another one I’ll have to check out! I’m not too interested by the fashion industry. (I was once approached and turned it down, and to this day, I have no idea if the woman who approached me was the real deal or not, and I really don’t care.) However, I like the ideas and premises in this book. I like Violet – at least how you have portrayed her – and the struggles she’s up against.

    And like you, I’m a sucker for friends-becoming-more. That’s what my own romance was, and that’s what three of my stories are. :-) There aren’t enough of them out there!

  2. Jia
    Feb 28, 2008 @ 10:56:24

    Kathleen: Maybe one day I’ll get tired of those types of stories but right now, I can’t get enough of them either.

    When I was a teenager, I was once approached by a recruiter too but if she was legit, and I don’t know if she was, it had to have been for print because I’m not tall enough for runway.

  3. Tracey
    Feb 28, 2008 @ 11:36:15

    Violet Greenfield was once a high school social outcast. Being too tall and too thin, she was just never able to fit in. Boys didn't want to date a girl taller than them and the popular clique wouldn't give her the time of day.

    Right away I was turned off. I get so tired of all these books in which the heroine is a terrible outcast because of her looks…and then we discover that she’s tall, slender and beautiful enough to be a model. Or, as in the Earth’s Children series, the heroine doesn’t conform to the ideal of beauty in the culture in which she was raised–but is nevertheless a tall, slim, blonde, blue-eyed goddess living among Neanderthals. It’s wearying, especially since we’re supposed to feel sorry for such heroines and their belief in their own unattractiveness. I see no reason to pity a tall slim model in perfect health who makes thousands of dollars for getting her picture taken. I wouldn’t mind having these problems. What’s Violet’s excuse?

    Also, why is a girl who is a social outcast and who has no faith in her looks ends up going into a profession that’s all about looks and confidence? It seems odd to me that she would have the self-esteem to even consider such a thing.

    In fact, I’ve been trying to think of a story which involves romance and which genuinely deals with bodies that don’t conform to the expected ideal of our society…and all I can think of is Hairspray.

    And of course the supposedly-unattractive heroine has a man who’s been her friend since childhood/best friend in high school/companion on a long journey/ support in times of trouble/etc. The point is that he’s always been there and has loved her all along.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with friends becoming more–I like those kind of stories. It’s just that the supposedly-unattractive female ALWAYS has a Xander Harris in tow, and the Xander is always in love with the S.U.F. I’ve seen the pattern in mystery, in fantasy and in romance. The pattern never changes.

  4. Kathleen MacIver
    Feb 29, 2008 @ 08:54:28

    Jia – I suppose that must have been the case for me, too… unless they thought I was younger than I was, and figured I’d grow more! LOL!

    As for the friends-becoming-more… I think that’s why I loved Anne of Green Gables so much. That and L.M.Montgomery’s humor. It’s the build-up, when you, as the reader, see how they’re falling in love, and you’re just waiting for them to realize it! And then there’s the moment of realization. Can’t beat it! *smiles*

    Tracey, if you want to read a romance with a less-than-pretty heroine, try This Is All I Ask by Lynn Kurland. It’s not a friends-becoming-more, but neither is it a love at first sight. The reviews will give you a good idea of why people either love it or hate it. Lynn’s novella To Kiss in the Shadows, which won a Rita, also has a heroine with scars all over her face. (It definitely deserved the Rita, too!) And that one IS love at almost-first-sight! (There’s not much time in a novella, I suppose, but you can’t help loving a hero who can see past scars and a lack of self-confidence.)

    Personally, I don’t find this unrealistic at all. School kids are notorious for choosing ANYTHING to turn someone into an outcast, and in my experience, kids that are extra tall are often self-conscious because they can’t blend into the crowd. And what outcast girl WOULDN’T jump at the chance to “redeem” herself as a model? IMO… very few models are really that much prettier than your average woman, too, once you take away the makeup artists and stylists, etc. Those people could make 75% of the not-horribly-out-of-shape population beautiful… and if you add digital enhancement, then include the rest of the world! I’ll bet, if you took all of the school outcasts, gave them self-confidence to improve how they carry themselves and some stylists to show them how to look their best… I’ll bet that we’d be surprised how many of them are beautiful or handsome or cute.

    That’s my .02! (I’ll get off my soapbox, now.)

  5. Jia
    Feb 29, 2008 @ 13:56:56

    The thing about high school, at least in my experience, is that there’s real pressure to conform. And often times that idealized conformity extends to appearance — you must dress a certain way, you must look a certain way. If you don’t have the idealized physical features and traits, you either try to get them (i.e. lose weight by starving yourself) or you fake them (i.e. straightening your hair, bleaching it blond).

    Violet is 6’1″, which from what I understand is actually a bit taller than even the ideal height for a runway model, and in my experience, super tall girls were ostracized in high school. It’s not so much that they weren’t pretty — though I think Violet comes off more as “plain” in the context of the book and her peers with her freckles and dirty blond hair — but that my high school’s ideal was a shorter girl with curves and an all-American Barbie doll face. I haven’t read the first book (but I intend to seek it out now because I’m curious) but I believe Violet tries to redeem herself in the eyes of the popular clique as Kathleen rightly pointed out that many outcast girls would try to do. From what I inferred, however, that “redemption” does not work.

    Tracey: I do agree with your points. This book follows a certain formula, as many books are wont to do, but the body image issues it touched upon worked well enough for me that I didn’t mind. But it’s not a formula that will work for everyone.

    Kathleen: I definitely agree that most models aren’t that much prettier than the average woman when stripped of their makeup, styling, and lovely clothes. Especially when we start talking about international runway models — which is what Violet is — where the key is not so much how beautiful the model is but how beautiful they make the designer’s clothes look. There’s a difference between print and runway, commercial and editorial couture, and it’s rare that a model can span all those categories. When they can and do, that’s when you get the Tyra Banks, the Adriana Limas, and the Heidi Klums. But those are few and far between comparatively, in my opinion.

  6. Autumn
    Apr 02, 2008 @ 21:47:11

    well someone said they were tired of the herione being an outcast, well i think thats plain stupid. there’s like one to two people in like every school who is like really popular. and i’m fucking tired of all the books about clicks. this book was good for a change, and i loved the first and the second. i really think this connects to younger people too. I enjoyed the books and i am very excited about the third, this book made me entertained and i finished it in a day becuase it is simply just a page turner, you want to know what happens with roger and her and her friendships and how everything works out! i thought this was a great book!

  7. Melissa Walker
    Jun 08, 2008 @ 17:14:41

    Interesting discussion! I really enjoyed reading the review, and the comments. Thanks, everyone!

  8. REVIEW: Violet in Private by Melissa Walker | Dear Author: Romance Book Reviews, Author Interviews, and Commentary
    Aug 08, 2008 @ 15:00:53

    [...] yet to read the first book in this series, Violet on the Runway, I enjoyed the second installment, Violet by Design, a great deal. So when Jane mentioned she’d received a copy and would be sending it on to me, [...]

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