Viola in Reel Life by Adriana Trigiani – Review by Michelle Haseltine

I love serendipitously finding books.  As a teenager, I’d roam through the basement of my neighborhood library (where all of the fiction lived). I’d search the shelves for nothing, anything, whatever jumped out at me. My favorite finds were the books that were haphazardly strewn on a table or misplaced on a shelf. I’d scrutinize my find carefully, believing that the book was there just for me. With the dawn of online shopping, that happens less and less, so when it does it’s even sweeter. This is how I discovered Viola in Reel Life.


As a middle school teacher I mostly read YA books to recommend books to my students. Every once in a while, I yearn to read something else…something for ME, so I turned to my favorite non-YA author, Adriana Trigiani. She’s been one of my favorites for years having written Big Stone Gap, Big Cherry Holler, Milk Glass Moon, Very Valentine, Brava Valentine, and on and on. I’ve read all of her books, so I did what I always do and turned to a trusted favorite. When I searched her website, I saw a new book that I hadn’t heard of before: Viola in Reel Life. And what surprised me more than that was this: it’s a YA book! My FAVORITE author is now writing for my students. Serendipity! Having no self-control, I immediately downloaded the book onto my Kindle and started reading and didn’t stop until I finished.


Viola in Reel Life has all of the charm and lovely writing that all of Trigiani’s books have. Her characters become your friends and you find yourself rooting for them. We meet Viola as she’s reluctantly beginning boarding school in Indiana, “The land is the color of baked pizza crust without the tomato sauce” (p. 3).


Viola is a true New Yorker and can’t imagine living away from the city. She is also a film maker. The reader follows Viola as she adjusts to boarding school, meeting her roommates and friends, and competes in a film competition. Oh and of course there are boys like Tag Nachmanoff (Isn’t that a great name!). “This is too much good stuff: a layer cake of joy, of possibilit.” (p. 139).  Viola has a sassy personality that carries her through the trials and tribulations of growing up.


Characters drive this novel! Viola’s parents want the best for her, but as with many teenagers, Viola doesn’t see that. Her friendships reveal much about who Viola is and who she wants to be. Marisol Carreras, Romy Dixon, and Suzanne Santry are her roommates at the Prefect Academy. BFFAA (Best Friends Forever And Always) Andrew Bozelli and Caitlin Pullapilly are back in Brooklyn. Many of my students enjoyed seeing themselves represented in Caitlin as an Indian character with very strict parents. You’ll learn more about all of these characters in Viola in the Spotlight and the journey continues in the third book out later this year.


I love that more and more authors who don’t typically write for kids are branching out into this arena.  Adriana Trigiani has successfully found her way into this genre and I’m so grateful. If you haven’t met Viola, let me introduce you…

Michelle Haseltine just completed her eighteenth year of education. She currently spends her days with sixth graders in Loudoun County, VA reading and writing. Michelle is a Teacher-Consultant with the Northern Virginia Writing Project and continues to search for the book she’s destined to write. She can be found at twitter as @mhaseltine and at her blog