Many writers of fiction for adults have tried to bridge the gap to writing for young people, with mixed success. Adriana Trigiani, the popular author of the Big Stone Gap series, among other novels, breezily navigates the transition to young adult fiction with her first book for teens, Viola in Reel Life.
The last place 14-year-old Viola Chesterton wants to be spending her freshman year of high school is at all-girls Prefect Academy. But when her parents, documentary filmmakers, head to Afghanistan on assignment, they decide that boarding school in South Bend, Indiana, is a much safer option than home-schooling in Kabul. Viola’s sure she’ll hate everything about boarding school. She’s an only child, unused to sharing anything—let alone a single dorm room with three other girls. She’s a lifelong New Yorker, not sure how her unique fashion sense will go over with her Midwestern classmates.
Fortunately, Viola is also creative—something that goes a long way toward both saving her sanity and improving her social standing. She’s inherited a dramatic flair from her actress grandmother and the filmmaking bug from her parents. Over the course of her year at Prefect, Viola’s creative talents come into their own, as she creates multimedia sets for the Founder’s Day pageant and eventually writes and directs her own short film. As if that weren’t enough, over the course of this single pivotal year, Viola gains three new friends, falls in love, and falls right back out again.
Narrated by Viola herself, Viola in Reel Life is loaded with Viola’s wryly funny observations about boarding school life, as well as with plenty of pop culture references and IM-speak. Although Viola’s three roommates may seem a little underdeveloped in this novel, they’ll get their own chance to shine in three subsequent books in this projected series.
With its light, optimistic tone and easygoing storytelling, Adriana Trigiani’s boarding school novel might just be the perfect way for young readers to ease back into their own school days.
Norah Piehl is a writer and editor who lives near Boston.