Viola in Reel Life

Published June 19, 2011 by myliteraryleanings

Viola in Reel Life by Adriana Trigiani
Overview (from

  1.  I’m marooned.
    Left to rot in boarding school . . .
    There are four reasons why Viola Chesterton knows she’ll never survive her first year at Prefect Academy:

1. Her parents have heartlessly dropped her there against her will

2. She has to leave behind her Best Friend Forever And Always, Andrew. . .

3. and replace him with three new roommates who, disturbingly, actually seem to like it there
“There” is South Bend, Indiana—Sherbet-Colored Sweater Capital of the World and about as far away from her hometown of Brooklyn, New York, as you can get.   At least she has her video camera and her dreams of being a filmmaker to keep her busy.  But boarding school, and her roommates, and even the Midwest are nothing like she thought they would be, and soon Viola realizes she may be in for the most incredible year of her life. But first she has to put the camera down and let the world in.

My Review: This is my first review that is not a free Barnes and Noble e-book. It was still free but it came from my local library. I have to say from the outset that I was- and still am- a major fan of Ms. Trigiani’s writing. I have read all the novels in her Big Stone Gap series as well as many of her other novels and I loved them all. I, of course, also had high hopes for this one.

For the most part, I wasn’t disappointed. The only negative comment that have is that I was slightly disappointed that unlike her other novels, the central character is not an Italian-American. That was somewhat disappointing since there are so few of non-stereotypical Italian Americans featured in popular fiction though the situation is worse on television or in the movies.

Overall, however, I loved this story. The main character, Viola Chesterton, has good head on her shoulders and, surprisingly, also has actual goals for her future. (She wants to be a filmmaker like her parents.) I wish I had been more like her at that age.

Also, Trigiani does not talk down to her readers. I noticed very little difference between this and her other novels which she wrote primarily for adults. She trusts their intelligence. Listen to the introduction and you can see it even from the start. Just read the overview above from

Did you read the overview? Good. As you can gather, the story begins with a new chapter in this Brooklyn girl’s life- and not a good one either. Her parents are forcing her to attend the same boarding school that her mother attended as a teen so that they can go off to make a documentary in Afghanistan. Viola, who loved her life in Brooklyn, is about to have a mental meltdown.

In the beginning she is sure that she will not like boarding school and her only goal, besides surviving her ordeal is to get one of the single rooms so that she won’t have to put up with roommates. She gets the room but to her surprise (and everyone else’s), she turns it down.   Although she’s slightly negative at the beginning, I can easily understand why and she’s likeable in spite of, or perhaps, because of it.

She’s so funny too. Another great Trigiani trait. Read and laugh.

“’You snap judge,’ Marisol says to me.
‘I do not,’ I say, taken aback.
‘Viola, you totally snap judge. You thought Mrs. Carleton was fashion disaster because she wears Land’s End khakis.’
‘I modified my position when she wore Levi’s.’
‘I know. But you still had week where you were doubting everything she said in class because she didn’t dress cool.’” P.70- 71

All through the novel, I get a real sense of Trigiani’s love for her character and for the art of storytelling itself. She’s a good example for me to try to follow in my own writing. God let my book be three-quarters as good as hers and I’ll be happy.

“’I sense you’re getting a little impatient with this process,’ Mrs. Zidar says.
Oh, really, what was your first clue? I want to retort but instead, I say, ‘No, I just have a lot on my mind.’” P. 150

I could go on and on but let me just conclude by saying, how much I appreciate Trigiani’s ability to tell a good story without too much sex or violence. And yet somehow the story still seems realistic and not watered down. I am not sure how she does it, but I am hoping I can do it too with my own novels. This is a fine addition to the YA genre.

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