On sale now (Published April 5, 2011)
Age: 12 and up; Grades: 8 and up; Enjoyable for all ages
I received an ARC of Viola in the Spotlight when the lovely Adriana Trigiani gave copies to bloggers through her Facebook page. I was tickled pink, and I’m so glad the release day is here.
Viola is finally where she belongs—back home in Brooklyn, where there are no khakis or sherbet-colored sweaters and people actually think her yellow flats are cool. But something weird is up with her best friend Andrew, and a new boyfriend has her friend Caitlin ditching them both. Throw a hectic internship and a whirlwind Prefect Quad reunion into the mix, and Viola starts to wonder: Is Brooklyn where she wants to stay? But when a tragic event shakes everyone’s world, Viola realizes it’s not where she belongs that matters—it’s who she’s with that really counts.
Viola in the Spotlight is the follow-up to Adriana’s young adult debut, Viola in Reel Life. We meet Viola on the steps of her family’s Brooklyn brownstone as she films her return home from boarding school.
There is no better place on earth than right here on my stoop on 72nd Street in Bay Ridge. Borough of Brooklyn. City of New York. County of Kings. The Empire State.
I lift my video camera, flip to Record, and peer through the lens, taking in every familiar detail of our cul-de-sac.
These opening paragraphs introduce two things I appreciate most about this novel: Viola loves her home and feels a strong connection to family, and she has a vocation, even at 15 years old. Too often I’ve read young adult novels that harp on teen angst and anger against parents. Far too often the parents in YA are distant and leave the main character to fend for herself with little guidance. I understand these devices function for plot, but after a half-dozen books, they feel wooden and formulaic, a pit Viola in the Spotlight never falls into. Viola also has a passion for making movies, and she devotes her time and talents to it, which is refreshing after main characters who have no interests beyond romancing a boy or escaping parents.
Though Viola is thrilled to be home, she first reflects on her relationship with the three roommates she met at her boarding school the year before. She loves them as sisters and misses them, but she is happy that the summer and upcoming school year will be spent at home in Brooklyn with her family and friends. Even her grandmother is in town to star in a reprisal of Arsenic and Old Lace on Broadway, and Viola envisions a perfect summer.
Before we’re out of chapter one that perfect summer falls apart. Viola’s relationship with her best friend Andrew is different now that he is older, broken up with his first girlfriend, and handsome. Andrew is also going to camp for most of the summer. Viola’s hopes rest on her other New York friend Caitlin, but Caitlin must spend the summer filing in a dentist’s office. Soon Caitlin turns away from Viola in favor of her new boyfriend, and then Caitlin—and Viola—start lying to Caitlin’s strict mother.
It’s a hectic summer for Viola as she negotiates her relationship with Andrew, covers for Caitlin, makes movies, gets a summer internship, hosts a boarding school reunion in New York, smoothes family drama, and offers her films to ease a traumatic time. The narrative doesn’t feel as stretched as it sounds, because the greatest weight is on Viola’s relationships. The relationships are real and nuanced, full of the tensions of the teen years, and I was glad to see a strong young woman surrounded by other dynamic teens. However, I wanted Viola, who is normally strong, to stand up to Caitlin more. I also wanted more time focused on Viola’s internship and how she could have learned and grown from it, but I have a suspicion it was included to set Viola up for future books. (Obviously if I want things for the characters I care about them and the story.)
Adriana’s writing makes Viola in the Spotlight into something special, a story that can stand-alone for readers, like me, who have not read Viola in Reel Life. I look forward to following Viola into future books partially because of the beauty of Adriana’s writing. Adriana casts us into the heat and excitement of Brooklyn. I see the street where Viola lives as she films it.
I angle in on the old fire hydrant, once painted in bold stripes of bright red, white, and green in honor of the Italian flag. Now, after years of sun and wear, the hydrant has faded to a dull pink, gray, and mint green. I asked Mom is we could repaint it, and she said, “Let’s not. It’s symbolic of a bygone era.” She’s right. These are monuments, after all, Brooklyn monuments. We live in history.
The glitter of Mermaid Day at Coney Island comes to life with its spectacle of mermaid costumes, sounds of steel drums, scents of cotton candy and pizza, and pang of unrequited crushes. Later, the description of “a full moon, pink and perfectly round like a Necco wafer, throws light onto our roof” sets the tone for a sweet yet tough scene that shifts the rest of Viola’s summer.
Future books give me hope Viola will grow out of the stereotyping and generalizing that was the one point of this novel I did not enjoy.
“I don’t think Mrs. Pullapilly would hold you responsible just because they happened to meet at our house.”
“Mom, are you kidding? The Indian people are mystical. They find meaning in everything. A locked door is a symbol, a ray of light is a spiritual indicator. I could go on and on.”
I make a mental note that boys, when confronted about anything, respond with a catch-all phrase that describes their feelings, instead of actually saying what they’re feeling. Very annoying.
“Yeah, but how much did he like her—really? He’s being cavalier. He knows you’ll be in school with him this fall, so all of a sudden, he has to act like he’s not interested in you despite what he’s said and done this summer.”
“What a waste of time,” Marisol says.
“That’s a boy for you,” I agree.
Despite the generalizations and a hearty dose of obvious life lessons, I highly recommend Viola in the Spotlight for readers who enjoy a vivid urban setting, touching family interactions, enduring female friendships, and negotiations of friendships and romance.