Aug 8 2008
Dear Ms. Walker,
While I’ve 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, I was very happy.
For readers new to the series, the Violet books are a young adult series about Violet Greenfield, a teenage wallflower who’s scouted to be an international runway model. What sets these books apart from other young adult “makeover” novels (in which the plain jane heroine is transformed into a hottie) is that Violet is portrayed as that insecure girl next door and never becomes anything less than real and sympathetic. She’s a conflicted heroine, torn between basking in the spotlight (a definite boost to the ego of a high school outcast) and realizing that maybe this isn’t the world for her.
Violet in Private picks up where Violet by Design left off, with Violet trying to leave the modeling world and start a normal life as a college girl by attending Vassar. But as she learned in the previous novel, saying she’s going to leave is much easier than doing it. Not only does she have an internship at a fashion magazine, she continues to deal with the fallout from being the headliner of a modeling campaign emphasizing healthy, natural beauty while embodying everything that’s wrong with the modelling industry. Violet had hoped to enjoy relative obscurity at Vassar but it turns out she’s not safe even there: she meets one of her biggest fans, and the hypocrisy inherent in her modeling campaign becomes the focus of debate in one of her classes. On top of that, she still struggles with her relationship with Roger, her childhood friend and the guy she’s grown to love.
I find it interesting that Violet’s characterization comes full circle here. She started as a plain jane wallflower, emerged as the next hot thing in industry, and now wants to return to a quieter, if not entirely normal, life. She’s all but isolated herself from the high-speed fashion world, no longer hitting the NYC clubs with her modeling friends and no longer jetsetting to different parts of the world to walk runways.
Even so, she still remembers she has a voice and influence that, when used, can become a force for good. She writes entries on her MySpace blog. In reaction to being ambushed in class about her marketing campaign, she writes a column for the college newspaper, which gets picked up by one of the larger papers and leads her to landing that magazine internship. She speaks to students about the fashion industry and its body image issues. Violet may be becoming a pariah in the fashion world, but I find her actions and choices a breath of fresh air.
I particularly liked how Violet struggles with her own body image issues. Since taking her modeling sabbatical and enjoying the college diet of junk food and alcohol, she’s obviously gained some weight. But since she was stick thin to begin with, this only results in her reaching a healthy, normal weight. Violet is over six feet tall. Expecting her to weigh 100 pounds is unreasonable and extremely unhealthy. But as shown in the previous book, an extra 10 pounds led to her “healthy beauty” marketing campaign sponsor telling her to lose weight and receiving the nickname of La Gordita from the fashion world. In Private, it’s even worse. Her agent scorns her. The fashion world gossips about her. Even her co-workers at the fashion magazine call her fat. It’s only another example of how distorted body image gets in the fashion world and by extension, in our society since we’re bombarded with these images every day.
I loved how Violet grows from the shy, unsure girl we first meet to someone who takes control and puts her foot down. Even though she becomes a fashion model, she remained the same on the inside, which is why Violet sometimes becomes a doormat, never saying no, always agreeing to what other people tell her to do. Violet standing up to her agent was a wonderful thing, and I could have cheered when she confronted Roger towards the end of the book. I don’t want to give away what happens but that scene drove home just much Violet has come into her own. The girl we first met would never have done or said what she did, and it was nice to see how much she’d grown. B+