New Books: Alterations

By Stephanie Scott

You’ve seen Sabrina, right? (The Audrey Hepburn flick where she plays the chauffeur’s daughter in love with the son of the family who employs her dad? If you haven’t, you are missing out, and you should probably go watch it now.) Scott wrote Alterations as a kind of 21st century YA take on Sabrina, and in terms of frothy, fashion-y fun, it works as a pretty successful homage. 

Amelia has spent her life living on the Laurenti family estate, where her abuelita works as the family’s chef. Amelia has grown up watching handsome, popular Ethan—and his brother Liam—from afar, dreaming of the day when her crush will finally notice her. But Amelia’s abuelita thinks it’s time for Amelia to find a life away from the Laurentis, and she sends off Amelia’s discarded application to a prestigious New York City summer fashion program for teens. Though she’s nervous at first, soon Amelia is living the Project Runway life, shopping at Mood, making her designs work, and even showing an evening gown on the runway at the end of the program. More importantly, she’s making friends, boosting her confidence, and finally—though not without a few snags and some back-pedaling—coming into her own. (This was the best part of the book.) When she returns home, she’s a different girl from the shy, insecure girl she used to be—and Ethan finally notices her. But, as it turns out, Amelia’s long-time crush may not actually be the Laurenti brother she really wants to be with.

This is definitely a predictable teen romance, but if you like that kind of thing—and I do sometimes—it’s a pretty charming one. Amelia learns to define herself by much more than whoever she happens to have a crush on at a given time, and her friendships are just as important to the story as her love connections. I like that she makes mistakes (like lying to a new friend that Ethan is her boyfriend in a moment of stupidity), accepts and apologizes for them, and moves on. And I think her relationships with her mom and her grandmother feel warm and realistic. I did feel that the second half of the book dragged after Amelia came home from NYC—that part just wasn’t as interesting to me as the fashion school arc, and it seemed to take needlessly long for Amelia to realize that Liam was the Laurenti for her. But this is the kind of book I’d read by the pool or in the hammock, when what you want is something light and cheerful that you know will leave you with a happy ending. It’s fun, and sometimes that’s just what I want from a book.

New Books: Material Girls

Material Girls
By Elaine Dimopoulos

The press release I got for this book described it as “Project Runway meets the Hunger Games.” Which … it’s not. Not even close. But it’s still a pretty fun read.

In Marla’s world, you are what you wear — and teenage Marla was lucky enough to land a spot on the Fashion Court of a major design house. Like all tweens, she’d maintained an online presence throughout her childhood, hoping to be tapped into a cool arts and entertainment career rather than ending up as an Adequate with a boring job, like being a doctor or a journalist. On the Fashion Court, Marla and her co-judges decide what fashions will be the next trends (musketeer coats! barbed-wire bracelets!) and which will never make it into the showroom. It’s the best job in the world — even her parents envy her — so Marla’s crushed when she’s unceremoniously dumped from the court and sent down the basement with the grown-ups to work in the design department.

Ivy Wilde has made a name for herself as a party-hard pop singer, complete with a perfectly coiffed entourage and access to all the latest trends. But the more famous she gets, the less satisfied Ivy feels. Even the little pink P-pills aren’t lifting her mood like they used to.

When Marla’s path intersects with Ivy’s, they come up with a plan that could change fashion — and society — forever. Soon, Ivy’s encouraging her followers to bring back expired trends and Marla’s leading the fashion house workers on a strike. But in world that runs on consumerism, can two girls really make a difference?

Material Girls probably won’t be the best book you read this summer — it’s a bit shrill and preachy in some places, a little too predictable in others — but it’s definitely worth considering for your pool bag or airport layover. Some of the details — like the trend checker that Marla uses to scan her clothes for their current fashion status — are fun because of how realistic they seem. And the warning against conspicuous consumption is certainly a fair one. Sometimes, you just want a fun and frothy book — and if you're a dystopian fan or a fashionista, you'll find Material Girls a good bet.