In Marla Klein and Ivy Wilde’s world, teens are the gatekeepers of culture. A top fashion label employs sixteen-year-old Marla to dictate hot new clothing trends, while Ivy, a teen pop star, popularizes the garments that Marla approves. Both girls are pawns in a calculated but seductive system of corporate control, and both begin to question their world’s aggressive levels of consumption. Will their new “eco-chic” trend subversively resist and overturn the industry that controls every part of their lives?
Smart, provocative, and entertaining, this thrilling page-turner for teens questions the cult like mentality of fame and fashion. Are you in or are you out?
When Elaine Dimopoulos’s Material Girls came up as a Read Now title on Netgalley, I decided to step outside my comfort zone and read it. Even if the blurb seemed to indicate it was a YA dystopian novel, which I usually enjoy, for some reason I dithered and it was hard to put my finger on what exactly caused this. So what convinced me in the end? The tag line, as I love Project Runway. Sometimes decisions are as shallow as that. Why tell you about the decision process here? Because that ambivalence has marked my entire process with this book; I’ve kept going back and forth on what I thought about the book. Did I like the characters? Was the plot interesting or bland? Did I enjoy the world building or was it too far-fetched to work? The answer changed again and again. I still don’t have any definitive answers. I certainly found it confusing but also interesting enough, because I never once considered not finishing it.
Spoilers beyond the cut.
The world-building in Material Girls was a little light for me. The book is clearly set in the future, having seen a number of generations of children working and growing up to have children of their own, but it doesn’t feel all that futuristic tech-wise, in fact, apart for the different names for the devices they carry everywhere, it seems as if it is pretty much the same as the tech of today. This felt a little weird, especially as there has been so much societal change. The reasons for adding children to the workforce in the first place were murky and only disclosed halfway through the book. Apparently it was a way to boost the country out of a recession, because trends are fickle, as are teens’ and tweens’ tastes apparently, and people wanting to keep up with trends are prone to spend more money. So they let the teens and tweens decide the trends. Or something. The world required a lot of suspencion of disbelief and I found it hard to suppress my analytical side and to remain in the bubble of belief needed.
There is a lot of social commentary in the book. Topics touched upon are the wastefulness of consumerism, the pressure of having to keep up with the Joneses when it comes to fashion, culture, games etc., our extreme veneration of celebrity culture, and the way much of it is artificial, such as much of reality TV and music idols are these days. There is also the inequality between Taps and Adequates and the way the people who actually create things, such as designers, aren’t given the appropriate respect and compensation. And while all of these are interesting issues and themes, I do have to wonder if it wasn’t all a bit too much stuffed in one narrative. At one point it felt as if I couldn’t see the forest through the trees posing as issues any longer and just scaling back some of the very overt messages included in the story, it would have allowed those left shine more brightly.
Predictably my favourite scenes were those set in the fashion house, especially those in the drafting rooms and the scenes where Marla illicitly creates her own garment for Ivy in secret. Marla is an interesting character, one coming from a privileged background — both her parents were Taps — and she is a Tap herself. So being then dropped from the pinnacle of the workforce down to the bottom, almost literally, is a very sobering experience to say the least. Marla also has the more satisfying storyline of the two girls. Her professional development and growth as a person was lovely to behold and her romance with Felix doesn’t hurt either. She also has the stronger cast of supporting characters in her fellow drafters and other fashion house employees. Especially her draft table mates are wonderful, with Felix and Vivienne leading the pack.
Where I really enjoyed Marla’s character, I didn’t like Ivy much, especially towards the end. Her progression was the opposite to Marla’s: her story is rags to riches. And it is this that perhaps explains her fear of losing her top spot in the music charts and the lengths she’ll go to in order to stay Number One. She’s often unsympathetic and opportunistic, even if there sometimes are glimpses of the young, lonely girl she truly is. My favourite part of her story arc was not so much her story as that of her younger brother and of her parents, who we meet when she attends the Tap Ceremony at her old high school. It gave an interesting look at the lives of the Adequates and illustrates how stressful and artificial the Tap system is. I hated how Ivy’s arc was resolved, however, it just negated her whole story.
In the end, Material Girls grabbed me enough to make me want to finish the book and find out what happened. But overall, the reading experience left me confused and the ending was unbalanced. There was a lot of potential in the idea, which wasn’t truly realised and sadly that meant Material Girls truly didn’t work for me as a reader. Dimolopoulos has a very pleasant writing style, based on which I’ll be interested to see what she does next, perhaps that will work better for me than her debut.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.