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Sequins, Secrets, and Silver Linings

Review

Sequins, Secrets, and Silver Linings

When I was a teenager, a friend and I used to spend countless hours sprawled out in her parents' basement, making sketches for what we thought for sure would be cutting-edge fashion designs. I was never a particularly good drawer. I could draw faces okay, but my models' bodies were all wonky and disproportionate; they looked as wrong in the clothing I designed as I would. Unlike me, Mary --- who was always a superior artist --- persevered with her hobby into college and beyond, designing costumes for her university's theater department and eventually becoming a professional graphic designer.

What talent or passion makes some people seize onto childhood hobbies and turn them into lifelong careers? How do others let go of their childhood dreams and discover how to make themselves shine in other, unexpected ways? Those are just a couple of the questions Sophia Bennett explores in her debut, SEQUINS, SECRETS, AND SILVER LININGS.

At the center of the novel are three best friends, each of whom has already identified her own passions, more or less. Jenny is a statuesque redhead with real stage presence; her skills in the theater have landed her a part in a popular Hollywood film, but her body type --- which isn't helped out at all by her stylist's bad choices --- is getting her the wrong sort of attention in the gossip rags. Edie is the brains of the bunch, a high achiever with her sights set on Harvard or Oxford, and beyond that a career in politics. She has a popular blog, an impeccable GPA, and a dedication to global issues, even when her less idealistic friends question whether she can make a real difference in the world. And there's Nonie, whose lifelong passion is for fashion. She knows she'll never be a model like her mother was. She aches to be a designer, but is not sure she has the talent.

Nonie's doubts about her own skills are highlighted further when she meets Crow, a 12-year-old Ugandan immigrant who, by all accounts, seems to be the real deal. With little help and no budget, she has managed to design skirts and sweaters that clotheshorse Nonie snaps up eagerly. How far could Crow go if she can just be introduced to the right people, given the right materials? Nonie is determined to find out, even though her unspoken envy of Crow's talent sometimes makes things hard for her. And Edie is eager to help Crow, too, especially when she learns the younger girl's painful personal and national history. Meanwhile, there's Jenny, flitting around from red carpet to red carpet; she also wants to help Crow, even though she's in need of plenty of help herself.

Sophia Bennett's debut novel, the first in a projected trilogy about these three talented teens, will be devoured by the growing crop of young fashionistas and aspiring designers fueled by the popularity of shows like “Project Runway” and the expansion of media coverage of the fashion industry. Girls these days know their Dior from their Armani, and they'll eagerly drink up Nonie's vivid descriptions of designer couture as well as her own unconventional ensembles. They'll love the behind-the-scenes drama that goes into a runway show, and the descriptions of the creative process will have them running for their sketchpads and sewing machines.

Although SEQUINS, SECRETS, AND SILVER LININGS is a frothy, fashion-filled fantasy, the book is not just fluff or simply wish-fulfillment fodder for junior von Furstenbergs. As an author's note reminds readers, the focus on Crow's story is based on real-life tragedies, stories that may inspire political action as well as pattern making. And Nonie's story in particular, about discovering your true talents and real happiness only when you set aside stubborn childhood dreams, will speak to even more. "Less Fashion, More Compassion" is the theme of Crow's runway show; readers will love that Bennett provides both style and substance in equal measure.

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Reviewed by Norah Piehl on October 18, 2011

Sequins, Secrets, and Silver Linings
by Sophia Bennett

  • Publication Date: January 1, 2011
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: The Chicken House
  • ISBN-10: 054524241X
  • ISBN-13: 9780545242417