What could a beauty queen, a wallflower and a burnout have in common? In Kirsten Smith’s TRINKETS, they are all shoplifters, and they have all been caught. Sentenced to attend meetings of Shoplifters Anonymous, these three girls from different social circles have to spend far more time together than they ordinarily would, and their interactions are predicated on their shared secret vice. Tabitha, the beauty queen, is initially mortified that Elodie, the shy transfer students, and Moe, the freak with the bright-red home dye job, get to see her brought low, but she soon realizes that she might be able to have some fun with the unfortunate situation; she challenges her two classmates to a shoplifting competition. Whoever can make the biggest, boldest steal will be declared the winner. No one who has seen THE BREAKFAST CLUB will be surprised when the three girls discover that they have more in common than they thought they did.
"Everyone has heard the story of teenagers finding friendship that transcends clique boundaries, but the strength of Smith’s version is in the significance that the three protagonists find in mundane details."
Tabitha, Elodie and Moe form a friendship based on the mutual revelation of their vulnerabilities. Sharing a bad habit bonds them beyond the flimsy connections they have with their usual cliques. Tabitha values popularity, and her commonalities with her two best friends at school don’t extend far beyond a mutual appreciation for designer clothes. Moe comments that her school friends recruited her into their group because she happened to dress like them. She has been hooking up with the popular boy across the street who has been her sort-of friend since childhood, but neither will acknowledge the other in the hallways of high school. Elodie is new, but she has already been taken under the wing of the yearbook editor, who believes that her position justifies, nay, demands her to be an insufferable gossip.
The narrative unfolds in vignettes from the life of each girl. Point-of-view rotates among the three of them, which gives each the chance to describe her own daily injuries and reasons for shoplifting. Hint: none of them steal for lack of money. Introspective Elodie’s chapters are written entirely in free verse. This distinguishes her from Tabitha and Moe, who narrate their chapters in prose. Although Tabitha and Moe have different concerns, family situations and personalities, their voices sound very similar.
Smith tries to complicate the high school stereotypes into which each of these girls fall, but her efforts tend to feel obvious and expected. Moe’s friends listen to “death punk or speed metal or whatever,” but she can’t get enough of Katy Perry. Tabitha is dating the hot lacrosse star, but avoids hanging out with him because he is boring and casually cruel. Elodie has a good girl image against which she needs to secretly rebel. While none of these girls fall perfectly into the high school clique to which they are trying to belong, none of them has time to develop into a truly original character. At just shy of 300 pages, many of which are written in Elodie’s verse, the novel is a quick and fun read, but not especially memorable.
Still, Smith has flashes of insight that make the read worthwhile. She has a way of articulating observations that may have passed through your mind, but never really stuck. Tabitha notes her friends’ mirror faces, or the faces they make when inspecting themselves in the mirror. She reflects that this is the way that they imagine themselves, but no one else gets to see them like this. This becomes a way for her to think about the dissonance between a person’s private performance of identity and everyone else’s ideas about who she is. This becomes important when she, Elodie, and Moe begin to complicate their ideas about each other and about themselves. In another particularly effective chapter, Elodie relates, line-by-line, a conversation she has with her stepmother. After every line of dialogue, she inserts a parenthetical line as a translation of sorts. These translations document both the judgmental undertones she thinks she detects in her stepmother’s questions and the defiance that she implies in her seemingly pleasant, though laconic, answers. Conversations devoid of real communication always carry these suspicions and secret sniping, but rarely do we see this so plainly laid out. It is moments like this that make the reader chuckle in painful recognition of one’s own inner life.
Kirsten Smith has had plenty of experience writing about pain and humor in the lives of young people. She was a screenwriter on 10 Things I Hate About You, Legally Blonde, She's the Man and Whip It. In addition to films, she has also written another young adult novel, THE GEOGRAPHY OF GIRLHOOD, which chronicles a young woman’s coming-of-age story entirely in verse.
Everyone has heard the story of teenagers finding friendship that transcends clique boundaries, but the strength of Smith’s version is in the significance that the three protagonists find in mundane details. When recalling this novel years later, the little things will stick.
Reviewed by Caroline Osborn on March 12, 2013