Author: Elaine Dimopoulos
Publisher: Houghton Miflin Harcourt
DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!
Normally I rail against, indeed, refuse to read, novels which are little more than a shopping list of the author’s favorite fashion items. Such snotty books deserve contempt, as does the fashion industry itself. What could be more arrogant and flatulent than an industry devoted to dictating to you that you must change your clothing styles with great frequency, or there’s something wrong with you? What could be more unjust than an industry which effectively tells you that if you’re rich, you’re fashionable and if you’re poor you’re tasteless? And what could be more appalling than an industry built upon the backs of slavishly laboring Asian women and children?
This novel is exceptional, in more ways than one. In the do or Dior world in this story, youth rules comprehensively. At thirteen, children are “tapped” for the success spotlight. If they have spent their school year doing the right thing on their websites, they could become the next pop sensation, the next fashion icon, or the next box-office dream. If they fail, they’re doomed to a life as “adequates” – in short, they’re just like you and me, but in this story, adequate is really understood to mean failure.
This story concerns two successes. One of these is Marla Klein, who hit the big time in the fashion industry, being quickly promoted to the superior court – a handful of teens who declare what’s fashion and what’s fashi-off for one of the five big design houses, Torro-LeBlanc. Marla’s problem is that she’s been disagreeing with the rest of her court appointees, and before she can say “tummy ill figure”, she’s been jettisoned to the basement, where a hoard of designers deemed not good enough for the fashion courts are desperately trying to come up with fashion ideas which will impress the junior courts and get them a shot at displaying their design before the superior court.
Meanwhile, Evangeline Vassiliotis, now reincarnated as ivy Wilde, the current rebel diva superstar, is seeing her position threatened by an upstart Tap. Worse, she’s forced to wear the newest fashion: torture (which features chains, fake blood, and points on the soles of your shoes – on the inside). Of course, these “fashions” are scarcely any more torturous than those which women have felt compelled to wear for centuries, but they’re new and different, of course, so don’t you dare criticize them. Valenteenhold and Shamel certainly wouldn't! Women have fashion guns with which they can scan their clothing labels. If the light stays green, the trend is still good. If it’s red, you’re dead - fashionably speaking, of course - and it’s time to buy a new wardrobe.
Marla finds herself on the “obsoloser” table in the basement – as debased as it gets, in fact. She’s almost “crustaceous” for goodness sakes, but slowly, she and her cohorts hatch a scheme to subvert this system which considers people antiquated by the time they turn twenty. It all goes horribly wrong, and Marla finds herself under the icy glare of Ivy Wilde’s entourage – with the emphasis on the ‘rage’ part. It’s then that things really begin to change. Quick! Alert the media. I'm sure Vain Infamy, Cosplaypolitan, Fugue, or Helle fashion magazines would be interested!
This author could have read my mind – or snuck a peak at chapter zero of my novel Baker Street, but I doubt it! I honestly doubt that she and I are the only ones who have had thoughts like this about the fashion business. It’s what this author does with this story though, and where she takes it, which is what makes this novel “prime” (in my lingo: worthy!). No, in this novel she runs with it and makes an engrossing story full of interesting characters and even more interesting motivations.
I have to say that in many ways, characters Marla and Ivy are very much alike. There’s not a lot to separate them into individual characters, but this is only to be expected from a system which pre-processes children and manufactures a salable product out of them. But if you think that, then read on. They're not!
This story – speculative, dystopian, both - is set in the future, but it’s not a future that’s so far off it can’t be seen. No, the seeds of that future have been enthusiastically sown by vested interests since the 1950s, especially in the USA. A conspicuous consumer/planned obsolescence machine has been working on hearts and minds for decades. We’re all fashion victims. The question is: Is there a cure?