I am a big fan of Adriana Trigiani's books for adults. But given that I’m quickly departing the ranks of the thirtysomethings in favor of life as a fortysomething, I was a little nervous about how best to approach her latest book, VIOLA IN REEL LIFE. Unlike her previous efforts, Trigiani has written this novel for a young adult audience. And it’s been (ahem) a while since I’ve been in that age bracket.
VIOLA IN REEL LIFE tells the story of 14-year-old Viola Chesterton, a talented and warmhearted Brooklyn girl who loves nothing more than to look at life through the viewfinder of her video camera. An aspiring filmmaker, she is less than thrilled when her parents, who are documentary filmmakers, deposit her in an Indiana boarding school while they head off to film in Afghanistan. A New Yorker through and through, she’s convinced she’ll die without the charms of Greenwich Village, Chinese food and her BFF Andrew. However, landing in South Bend may not be the end of the world after all. She learns that her three new roommates have quite a bit to offer in terms of friendship, and she finds that her skills as a filmmaker have an opportunity to shine in an upcoming film contest. She even meets a boy….
As with Trigiani’s other novels, the strength of VIOLA IN REEL LIFE lies with its characters. Viola is fun and smart, and not afraid to take some chances in life. Trigiani’s ear for teen dialogue seems pretty on the mark as well --- with the exception that Viola is a lot more comfortable with a first date/first kiss situation than Iever was at that age!
The pacing may seem slow to fans wrapped up in the Twilightcraze, but this in part could be due to the fact that VIOLA IN REEL LIFE is the first book in a planned series. If so, that explains a lot about where the novel does --- and doesn’t --- go. While Viola is well-defined and likable, her roommates are cast in supporting roles that beg to be fleshed out, leading one to wonder whether future installments will more closely explore their lives or events from their points of view. Also craving some attention are Viola’s friends back home, Andrew and Caitlin, who the reader only gets to know, at this point, via IM and text messages.
Charming and wittily engaging, VIOLA IN REEL LIFE is sure to be a hit with Trigiani fans of every age. Her light touch with her characters makes readers root for their success, and Viola is no different. Trigiani also is excellent at creating a sense of place, and while Indiana may not be New York, she does a nice job of allowing the area’s beauty to develop through Viola’s eyes. The supporting characters, while a bit uneven, help create and sustain the warm atmosphere for which her novels are known. I have no doubt that readers, especially teens, will be eagerly awaiting the sequel.
Reviewed by Lourdes Orive on February 1, 2011