Viola in Reel Life by Adriana Trigiani, Hardcover | Barnes & Noble
Viola in Reel Life

Viola in Reel Life

3.7 78
by Adriana Trigiani

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When fourteen-year-old Viola is sent from her beloved Brooklyn to boarding school in Indiana for ninth grade, she overcomes her initial reservations as she makes friends with her roommates, goes on a real date, and uses the unsettling ghost she keeps seeing as the subject of a short film—her first.


When fourteen-year-old Viola is sent from her beloved Brooklyn to boarding school in Indiana for ninth grade, she overcomes her initial reservations as she makes friends with her roommates, goes on a real date, and uses the unsettling ghost she keeps seeing as the subject of a short film—her first.

Editorial Reviews

Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA)
“Sarah Dessen for middle school…Trigiani deftly shows that teenage girls can be independent, have positive self-images, and be happy.”
“Best-selling adult author Trigiani nicely captures boarding-school bonding, adolescent female insecurities, and current teen trends. Fun, breezy, and full of subtle life lessons, this is a good follow-up or prequel to the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series.”
Justine Magazine
“This book reminds each of us that a fish out of water really can find a new pond! Read it to remind yourself that your friends really do teach you something new every day.”
Richie's Picks
“A cold, snowy winter, a ghost mystery, kisses, cookies, roommates, a video diary, a film competition, and Viola’s crack-me-up-every time observations all make this an endearing coming of age story…exceptionally fun.”
When "one of the reigning queens of women's fiction" (USA Today) writes a young adult novel, the whole world should take notice. Author Adriana Trigiani has already won herself a worldwide reputation with her soulful Very Valentine and Big Stone Gap excursions, now she ventures into the coming-of-age experiences of Viola, a nice Brooklyn girl who just wants to survive boarding school in the Midwest. Feisty teen fiction.
Publishers Weekly
Trigiani (Big Stone Gap) takes the familiar boarding school milieu and gives it some welcome nuance and a refreshingly grounded feel in her debut YA work, first in a proposed series. To her horror, 14-year-old aspiring filmmaker Viola Chesterton is forced to leave her family, her funky Brooklyn neighborhood and her “Best Friend Forever And Always” Andrew to spend her freshman year at Prefect Academy for Young Women in South Bend, Ind. But Viola soon finds much to like in her new roommates and rural campus, chronicling her experiences in a video diary. While the story of Viola’s blossoming may seem slow to readers used to students who are training to be spies or developing crushes on vampires, Trigiani offers a realistic look at the ever-shifting bonds of friendship and the adjustment to one’s first taste of life away from home. Viola’s reflections on the sisterhood of girlfriends and the importance of girls standing up for themselves are resonant but never cheerleaderish. Trigiani uses Viola’s droll humor and a colorful supporting cast to great effect, ensuring that readers will want to know what happens to them in future volumes. Ages 12–up. (Sept.)
VOYA - Ed Goldberg
Fourteen-year-old Viola is not in Brooklyn anymore. She is involuntarily in South Bend, Indiana, at the Prefect Academy for Young Women, established in 1890, for the next year, while her parents film a documentary in Afghanistan. Armed with her video camera, she intends to document her misery. She begins by filming the fields around school, voice over to follow. Viola misses her BFFAA (And Always). She is prepared to hate her roommates, but they actually seem nice. Gradually Marisol, Suzanne, and Romy begin to fill the roles of friends and family, supporting each other. Viewing her initial film later that first day, Viola notices a woman dressed in a 1920s-style red costume walking across the far end of the field. She is positive that this woman was not present during the filming. During first semester, Viola gets volunteered for the Founder's Day play, meets a boy, and learns about a film contest. All seems right with the world. Trigiani's first foray in young adult literature is a predictable, tame, and enjoyable book about middle school girls maturing (almost Sarah Dessen for middle school). Viola and her roommates cope with being away from home. Each has some trial to overcome. The characters are nice, the dialogue and action are interesting, and the ending is apparent. The denouement regarding the red-costumed woman is acceptable but not outstanding. But that is okay. Trigiani deftly shows that teenage girls can be independent, have positive self images, and be happy. It is a far better novel than The Clique. Reviewer: Ed Goldberg
Children's Literature - Laura J. Brown
Viola lives in Brooklyn, New York. She loves her hometown and everything about it. When she finds out her parents are going to send her to a boarding school in Indiana (while they are out of the country working) she feels as if she has been marooned, abandoned, and left to rot in the middle of nowhere. She also hates to leave behind her best friend, Andrew. One thing she refuses to leave behind is her video camera and editing equipment. She loves making movies and decides that this is one thing in her life that will not change. The problem is that her video camera and her negative attitude get her in hot water with her three new roommates, who are actually glad to be at the boarding school. Viola's mom, who attended the same school when she was a teenager and loved it, tells her to hang in there that things will get better. Her dad says the same thing. A good friend back in Brooklyn advises Viola to change her attitude and give the school, her new roommates, and herself a second chance. Viola decides to listen to her friend; she makes peace with her roommates, who have their own words of advice, and discovers something that she never thought possible. There is life outside of Brooklyn. It is not perfect, but it is not horrible either. This is the story of four friends who have an incredible year together, and learn more about what life is really about. Reviewer: Laura J. Brown
School Library Journal
Gr 7–9—Viola's parents dumped her in the middle of nowhere. Well maybe "nowhere" isn't exactly true and perhaps "dumped" is too strong a word. As documentary filmmakers, her parents follow their stories. While they are filming in Afghanistan, they send their daughter to Prefect Academy for Young Women in South Bend, IN. Away from her home and friends in Brooklyn, Viola has resolved to be miserable. Her only comfort is in her daily IM conversations with her BFF, Andrew, and her personal video diary, "The Viola Reels." Then she meets her roommates, who are too great to be indifferent toward. Her constant video-camera-toting lands her on committees for school functions. To top it all off she meets a boy who shares her interest at a school dance. Suddenly, the ninth grader is happy, busy, and feeling at home. She even enters a film competition. Through the help and support of her friends and family, it could just be the short film of her dreams, maybe even good enough to win the competition. Viola in Reel Life is a sweet, character-driven story. Viola is very real, as are her feelings, hopes, desires, and dreams. There is not a lot of action, but the relationships portrayed in the book make it well worth reading.—Melyssa Malinowski, Kenwood High School, Baltimore, MD
Kirkus Reviews
Popular adult author Trigiani's (Very Valentine, 2009, etc.) first young adult novel is a quick read. Fourteen-year-old Brooklyn native Viola Chesterton is not happy attending Prefect Academy (PA), an all-girls boarding school in South Bend, Ind., while her filmmaking parents are in Afghanistan for a year making a documentary. At first reluctant to embrace campus life, Viola eventually bonds with her three roommates and becomes the most popular girl on campus after-OMG-securing a hot boyfriend. She also single-handedly saves the Founders Day play with her superior knowledge of filmmaking and wins second place for her amateur film. Throughout the year, the budding filmmaker records her experiences at PA in her private video diary, The Viola Reels; her first-person narration is, like, punctuated by IM transcripts. Though the characters are flat and stereotypical, the dialogue unoriginal, the first-person narration at times self-consciously shallow and the plot predictable, teens looking for something light with a touch of romance may find something here. Here's hoping, though, that successors in the series treat its audience with a bit more respect. (Fiction. YA)

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)
820L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Viola in Reel LifeChapter One

You would not want to be me.


I'm marooned. Abandoned. Left to rot in boarding school in the dust bowl of Indiana like the potato we found in the cupboard in our kitchen in Brooklyn after months of searching for it. It was only when the entire kitchen began to smell like a root cellar from Pilgrim days that we figured out why...and when we finally found the potato it was soft, rotten, and breeding itself with white barnacles with totally disgusting green tips.

Consider me missing. Like the potato.

I only hope it doesn't take an entire year for people to miss me as much as I can already tell that I'm going to miss them. And if I'm not good at explaining it in words, well, there's always my movie camera. I do better with film anyhow. Images. Moving pictures.

I flip the latch off the lens and look into the view finder, and press Record.

"I'm in South Bend, Indiana, on September third, 2009."

With my hand securing the camera and my eye behind the lens, I turn.

Through my lens, I slowly drink in three old brick buildings: Curley Kerner Hall is the dormitory where I'll be living, Phyllis Hobson Jones Hall (called Hojo for short, according to my resident advisor) is the theater with art studios on the basement floor, and Geier-Kirshenbaum is the classroom building. The Chandler Gym, a modern building that looks like a Moonwalk carnival ride covered with a hard shell of white plastic, is obscured by tall trees on a flat field.

What did I expect? Purple mountain majesties? I'm in the pre-Great Plains of the Midwest. The gateway to the west. This is Indiana...translated it's a NativeAmerican word for flat. Okay, I made that up.

I film the freshly painted black sign with gold lettering set in a stone wall.


It gives me little consolation to know that parents have been dumping their girls here for a solid education since bustle skirts, high-top shoes, and the invention of the cotton gin.

"This is my new school," I say aloud. "Or my own personal prison . . . your choice."

The stately brick buildings are connected by corridors of glass. From here, the glass hallways look like terrariums. That's right. The boarding school has glass atriums that look exactly like the scenes I made in summer camp out of old jelly jars filled with sand, cocktail umbrellas, and plastic bugs.

I pivot slowly to film the fields around the school. The land is the color of baked pizza crust without the tomato sauce. There are no lush rolling hills similar to the ones that appear on the school website. The babbling brook on the home page gushes crystal water, but when I went to film it, it was a bone-dry creek bed, with gross stones and tangled vines. Besides being marooned, I've been had...duped by my own parents, who, up until now, have made fairly intelligent decisions when it comes to me.

I lift the camera and film a slow pan. The endless blue sky has gnarls of white clouds on the horizon. It looks a lot like the braided rag rug my mother keeps in front of the washing machine in the basement of our Brooklyn brownstone. Everything I see makes me long for home. I wonder what color the sky is now in New York. It's never this shade of blue. This is cheap eye shadow blue, whereas New York skies have a lot of indigo in them. When the moon rises over Indiana, I bet it will be a cheesy silver color, but at home, it's golden: 24K and so big, it throws ribbons of glitter over Cobble Hill. I can already tell there will be no glitter in Indiana.

The first thing my parents taught me when I held a camera was to spend the least amount of film time on beauty shots and the most amount of time on people. "If you film people," my mom says, "you'll find your story." I slip the camera back into its case and head back to the dormitory. I'm going to remember to tell my mom that sometimes you need beauty...and beauty shots. Beauty makes me feel less alone.

The gothic entrance hall smells like lemon furniture polish and beeswax. The dorm has the feeling of an old church even though it's not one. Heavy dark wood stairs and banister lead to a ceiling covered in wide squares of carved mahogany. A burgundy carpet runner over the wide staircase is frayed at the edges but clean.

The hallway that leads to my room on the second floor is filled with small groups of girls, my fellow (!) incoming freshmen, who laugh and chat as though moving into a boarding school is the most natural thing in the world. I'll try not to resent the smiling, happy girls.

Inside the rooms are more girls, hanging posters and unpacking, talking as if they've known each other forever. But then there are the other girls, girls who are quiet and clump together, looking around with big eyes full of dread and fear, waiting for something horrible to happen.

I guess I'm somewhere in the middle of these two camps.

I don't want to be too quick to make friends because I don't want to get stuck with an instant BFF who seems totally nice on the first day, and then a week later is revealed to be the most annoying person on the planet. I don't want to be that freshman...the chirpy kind, who needs friends fast in order not to feel alone. So I am deliberately aloof. At LaGuardia Arts, in Brooklyn, my old school, this method worked very well for me.

I did make close friends when I was a photographer for the yearbook. I even made my best friend since childhood join the yearbook staff. Andrew Bozelli (BFFAA...the double A is for: And Always) and I have a lot in common. Never mind that everybody, I mean everybody, thinks we're boyfriend and girlfriend...we are not by the way, we just happen to spend a lot of time together. I fish my phone out of my pocket as it beeps. It's Andrew...

Viola in Reel Life. Copyright © by Adriana Trigiani. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Adriana Trigiani is beloved by millions of readers around the world for fifteen bestsellers, including the blockbuster epic The Shoemaker's Wife; the Big Stone Gap series; Lucia, Lucia; the Valentine series; the Viola series for young adults; and the bestselling memoir Don't Sing at the Table. Trigiani reaches new heights with All the Stars in the Heavens, an epic tale from the golden age of Hollywood. She is the award-winning filmmaker of the documentary Queens of the Big Time. Trigiani wrote and directed the major motion picture Big Stone Gap, based on her debut novel and filmed entirely on location in her Virginia hometown, to be released nationwide on October 9th, 2015. She lives in Greenwich Village with her family.

Brief Biography

New York, New York
Place of Birth:
Roseto, Pennsylvania; (Grew up in Big Stone Gap, Virginia)
B.A. in Theatre from Saint Mary¿s College

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