Viola in Reel Life by Adriana Trigiani
Publication Date: August 18, 2009
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: friendship, boarding school, only child, first love
Format read: Hard cover borrowed from the library.
Summary: Viola is forced to attend an all-girls boarding school when her parents move to Afghanistan. Though she vows to make it through the year as detached as possible, her three roommates force her to become involved.
Ever since I read Harry Potter, I’ve wished I had the opportunity to go to a boarding school when I was growing up. My little hometown didn’t have anything more than our tiny public school, but I yearned for the strong friendships, the lifelong bonds, and the living away from home experience. (I suppose this is what a lot of people gain by living on campus during college, too, but alas, I didn’t do that either.)
When I saw Viola in Reel Life at my library, I read “boarding school” on the flap and immediately added it to the stack of books in my arms. Viola’s parents are being sent to Afghanistan to to film a documentary; she has no choice but to go to the all girls boarding school her mother attended in South Bend, Indiana while they’re away. Viola, too, loves making films and feels the Midwest won’t be very inspiring considering she’s a NYC girl. How could things compare?
Viola leaves her best friend, Andrew, behind in New York. As a way to stay connected with him, she decides to film pieces of her life so he can join in her misery. She makes little to no effort to mesh with her three new roommates and chooses to be withdrawn and mopey until they confront her. I greatly admired these three girls, Marisol, Romy, and Suzanne, for reaching out to Viola to prove that the experience didn’t have to be as gruesome as she was allowing it to be. They force her to become more involved so she can walk away after the year is over with new friendships and outlooks.
While I overlooked the fact that Viola was only a Freshman when I checked this out, a much younger character than I typically read about, I did enjoy that the focus of Viola in Reel Life was different because of her age. The story was much more about friendship (than romance) and Viola, an only child, stripping away her independency to rely on new friends with very different upbringings and backgrounds. She had a lot to learn about herself, but she gained a new perspective: circumstances are what you make of them. You have to sieze the day and make the best of things.
Viola’s new friends became a sounding board for her as she navigated choppy waters when her friendship with Andrew became strained (oddly enough, right around the time she begins mentioning her first crush). They were her support group when her parents couldn’t make it home for the holidays. They became her film crew when Viola decided to enter a competition. The camaraderie was a definite strength for Viola in Reel Life and I happily reflected back on my days as a mere high school Freshman.
I wasn’t aware Viola was part of a series. I haven’t yet read the follow-up novel, Viola in the Spotlight, but I’ll be placing it on reserve at my library when I need a change of pace and want to take things back to basics — strong friendships, loving families, and innocent, first love.