Viola in Reel Life

( 77 )


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.

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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.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
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)
“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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061451041
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/1/2011
  • Pages: 282
  • Sales rank: 686,247
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 7.80 (w) x 5.30 (h) x 0.76 (d)

Meet the Author

Adriana Trigiani

Adriana Trigiani is an award-winning playwright, television writer, and documentary filmmaker. Her books include the New York Times bestseller The Shoemaker's Wife; the Big Stone Gap series; Very Valentine; Brava, Valentine; Lucia, Lucia; and the bestselling memoir Don't Sing at the Table, as well as the young adult novels Viola in Reel Life and Viola in the Spotlight. She wrote the screenplay for Big Stone Gap, which she also directed. She lives in New York City with her husband and daughter.

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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.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 77 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 77 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 18, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Viola in Reel Life is a REAL treat

    This was a very cute coming of age book about a 14 year old girl named Viola, who gets sent to a all girls school in Indiana while her parents film a documentary in Afghanistan. I really enjoyed the film aspects because that is something that I don't know a lot about.

    I related a lot to Viola, she is very stubborn and she seems to never understand that she is acting a certain way until someone points it out to her. I went into this book wanting to read a teenage romance, but as this story progressed I loved that it was more about Viola discovering herself and a friendship between four young girls.

    I would love to read more about Viola and her friends, I think that there is a lot of potential in the characters of this book. Especially, the relationship between Andrew and Viola. I would also like to see more of what Viola films, mainly her video diaries.

    All in all, this was a very well written book. It's the 1st book I've read by Adriana Trigiani and I will definetly be looking into her adult books now.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 5, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Awesome Book

    Viola In Reel Life is a sweet read that takes you thru the roller coaster ride that is Viola Chesterfield. She starts out feeling "dumped" by her documentary making parents who have to go to Afganistan to do filming. The book shows just how withdrawn Viola is when she first arrives and how it plainly hurts her roommates. Its nice to see a book written about a real girl going to boarding school, not some uber-rich girl having to deal with where her Manolo's will fit in the cramped closet. She hides from everyone behind her video camera, but that becomes part of her sudden popularity when she helps the Founders Day show the school puts on and makes her a star. That same camera also helps her meet a cute boy from the boys private school down the road. Its nice to see Viola change from being so withdrawn and sad to a bubbly and happy girl at the end. I liked how they talked alot about the short film Viola works on for a contest. Overall, its a good realistic book and girls will love it!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 4, 2009

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    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 13, 2009

    I Also Recommend:


    On September 3, 2009, fourteen-year-old Viola Chesterton finds herself unhappy after being dropped off in South Bend, Indiana which Viola refers to as the: "...dust bowl of Indiana", at "The Prefect Academy For Young Women Since 1890." Viola's parents are off in Afghanistan for a year making a documentary about Afghan women forcing them to pull her from her home in Brooklyn, New York. This was not going to be an easy or comfortable change for Viola.

    Convinced she was going to be unhappy, and feeling "marooned" and "abandoned", Viola figures her family will miss her long before her year at the all-girls boarding school is up, and will rush to bring her home. If she can't convince them through her words, then as an amateur photography and movie maker who never leaves her camera behind, she decides she'll express her unhappiness through film. It gives her little consolation when she realizes 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" and Viola sees the Academy as her "personal prison."

    Used to being an only child and not having to share, Viola decides to take a middle stance and not be "...too quick to make friends" as she doesn't want to be stuck with a 'best friend forever' or viewed as the "...most annoying person on the planet" and is soon introduced to her three roommates. But, as the girls get to know each other and become acquainted, what Viola begins to learn is that sometimes what we term as "family" isn't what we think.

    During her journey through boarding school, Viola not only makes some friends, discovers some things about herself and her family, survives her first boyfriend, but learns that good things do happen to people like her and growing up is sometimes hard to do.

    Ms. Trigiani's talent is amazing!! It doesn't matter if she's writing adult fiction or young adult fiction, all her novels are page-turners! I felt like I was with the group every step of the way, like I had been transported into the pages of the novel!! This novel is for anyone, young or old, male or female and will leave you wanting more.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 11, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Life Lessons from Viola

    I am far from a teen - but I am a huge fan of Adriana Trigiani and read whatever she has to say. I found the story captivating and thought that the message was a good one. This young girl was put into a situation that she very much did not want to be in - she not only dealt with it, but she learned that, when given a chance, good things can come out of a negative experience. All in all, a very good life lesson.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 1, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed by Andrea for

    Viola Chesterson has been "dumped" at the Prefect Academy for Young Women in South Bend, Indiana - a long way from home in Brooklyn, New York.

    Her freshman year of high school seems like it's going to be a terrible one. But luckily, with the help of her three roommates and the video camera that she always carries around with her, she not only survives the year (and her first boyfriend), but learns that sometimes family can be more than just the people you're related to.

    I enjoyed reading this book. It was fun to read about what boarding school life would be like for a normal kid, not just a rich one. I liked all of the roommates - when I first started the book, I expected them to not get along and to dislike them. But the author took a different route and made all of the girls nice and friendly.

    I also enjoyed the whole film aspect of the story. I thought the short film Viola makes at the end was a great idea. The only thing I didn't like was that sometimes Viola seemed a little immature. I know that she was only fourteen years old, but some of the things she thought and said just seemed a little young for her age.

    Overall, though, this was a fun young adult read!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 14, 2009

    more from this reviewer


    This is absolutely fantastic. I loved this book. If you are hesitating on buying this, just go ahead. Buy it and read it. If you like realistic fiction, comedy, mystery, or romance; this is the book for you.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 1, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Juno hits the Midwest

    I am a Childrens' bookseller and absolutely loved this title! I had the priviledge of meeting the author at Book Expo America in May. This book was just as much fun as Ms. Trigiani. The main character's quick wit reminded me so much of the banter in the movie "Juno". A former Michigander myself, I really got giggles out of the things Viola pointed out at her new midwestern based private school. I read this in just over a day and was sorry when it was over. I recommend this for girls 12yrs and older.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 12, 2013


    She gave a squeal.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2013


    I just wanted a music book for my viola

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 6, 2012

    Great book

    I thought it was a great book. Its a quick read, but also very fun. Don't hesitate to buy it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2012

    Love it

    Sweet story about a girl short read but worth the time

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 4, 2012

    Great read!

    I recommend this to a teenager like myself who is looking for a new book. It turned out to be really great! Im like Viola in that sense I guess!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2011


    it wasn't that bad.. i just didn't like it.

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  • Posted July 15, 2011

    A teen must.

    This is one of my new favorite books. The way Viola tells her story is stunning, and keeps you entertained throughout the whole book. This is the kind of book I would not get tired of reading over again. Great story of a teen life(:

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  • Posted July 2, 2011


    The book is good but there is no excitment or adventure.

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  • Posted April 3, 2011

    Thrilling, dynamic

    Viola is very funny. I reccomend this bool to the teenage girls out there who go to boarding school

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2011

    highly loved

    i think anyone under the age of 16 would love this book! even people older would to, but i think adriana trigiani tryed to make this appeal to teens or pree teens. i think she pulled it off very nicely. this book has a very intreasting plot. betrayal, adbandaningness, changing,love, misreable, feeling welcom, happy,overjoyed , and confused are all played into the story very nicely.

    people you should really read this book.

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  • Posted August 21, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A Great Book With A Realistic and Moving Story

    I will not try to give a brief summary for this book since it has already been done so pretty well. I will say, however, that "Viola in Reel Life" is a story that many people can relate to. Viola give a very thorough description of how it feels to be dragged from the only place you have come to known and love. However, as the book wears on, she begins to learn that maybe being moved isn't such a bad thing; that it can teach you some very valuable lessons. After all, everything happens for a reason. The characters are very authentic, as are the problems. While I think that this story is very realistic and truthful, I should forewarn that there is a lot of mention of the paranormal. But overall, the story is moving and will grasp your attention while also giving you a lesson of your own.

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  • Posted February 5, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Haven't Exactly Finished it Yet, but not Impressed.

    The cover, the plot, the whole look of the book made me want to read it. So far, I'm not impressed. Viola doesn't seem to know what she likes and doesn't like. I am expecting her to be a miserable teenager who is almost ready to walk out on boarding school, who doesn't get along with her friends, and is furious at her parents. I believe that would make the book a bit interesting. However, she comes in uncertain about school (understandable), realizes she pretty much likes her roommates from the start, doesn't exactly mind the school, and is pretty comfortable away from her parents. There's really no point. I'm halfway through and about ready to give it up.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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