by Elaine Dimopoulos
To be published on May 5, 2015
by HMH Books for Young Readers
Source: eARC for review from publisher
Synopsis from Goodreads: 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?
My take: There were things I liked about Material Girls. Overall it reminded me of Bumped by Megan McCafferty. I'd describe both books as sort of "dystopian light" -- futuristic, with a breezy, often satirical writing style that offers a chance for political commentary on where our world could be headed. Plus a huge amount of made-up slang and brands.
Material Girls starts off strong as a Cinderella story. In this future world, your career is decided in seventh grade. After that, there's nowhere to go but ... down. Trendy, judgy teens rule and if you're labeled an "Adequate," you have to endure the tedium of being a doctor or lawyer. Poor you! (That said, that aspect of the book was a shrewd commentary on our cultural obsession with youth and trendiness.)
Marla is a girl who gets tapped to work for a fashion house as a trend-vetter but suddenly learns that, as Heidi famously says: "in fashion one day you're in and the next day ... you're out." After Marla's taste is deemed too quirky, she's demoted and assigned to a dreary workroom where she sketches designs to be judged by her former colleagues. Though I would have preferred the workroom to Marla's former job, I found Marla and her story very relatable.
I also liked the way the book looked at the environmental impact of the fashion industry -- not just the way clothing is made. I've been textile recycling for years and was happy that the author tried to draw attention to the fact that our current worship of cheap, trendy clothing has led to huge amounts of clothes and shoes ending up in landfills rather than being donated or recycled.
But there were also things I didn't love about Material Girls. At times, the prose felt a little flat to me, like reading a movie treatment. There were two narrators, Marla, mentioned above, and Ivy, who was tapped to be a pop star. Terrified of losing relevance, Ivy's hoping that the right clothes can help her stay on top. I didn't mind Ivy as a character, but for me, having her POV didn't add much to the story.
While I did appreciate that this book tried to raise issues -- the fashion industry's impact on worker and the environment, the tyranny of trends, our cultural worship of youth -- I also felt that by the middle of the book, the story lost focus. If you like your YA books with romance, you're not going to find much here. And the ending was ... odd. But if you enjoy dystopians on the lighter side and/or are interested in fashion, this book could be a great fit for you.