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Material Girls

Review

Material Girls

The scariest kind of dystopian fiction is that which identifies current trends in our own society and then, with just a little imagination, follows them to their frighteningly logical extremes. The result can be an alternative world that bears an awful lot of resemblance to our own, one whose dysfunctions seem like mere extensions of our own world's imperfections.

That's exactly what Elaine Dimopoulos does in her debut novel MATERIAL GIRLS. We've probably all read news stories or opinion pieces about planned obsolescence --- the idea that manufacturers intentionally create goods with an artificially limited lifespan in order force or encourage future consumption. And we've certainly all heard about how Hollywood and the music industry base their decisions not on the preferences of established adults with disposable income but on the vacillating tastes of the young. Dimopoulos takes both these current real-world issues --- plus a handful of others --- and extrapolates from them a frighteningly plausible fictional world.

In Dimopoulos's world, seventh-graders are "tapped" --- a process in which some are selected for immediate employment in glamorous careers in creative professions like film, television, music or fashion design, while others are deemed simply "adequate," destined for several more years of schooling and eventual careers in more ordinary jobs like medicine, law or accounting. The "Taps" are primarily arbiters of taste, designing and dictating the all-important trends, which expire several times each year. Virtually every member of society longs to be seen as trendy, and it is considered a huge faux pas to wear, for example, a blouse or piece of jewelry whose trend has already expired. Dimopoulos doesn't bother to explain how or why the world got to this point, but it seems clear that the dystopian society she portrays is not the result of some catastrophe but rather the outcome of evolution, which might make readers think even more carefully about the logical outcomes of our own society's trendlines.

[R]eaders are left not only with the memory of a good story but also with a lot of food for thought.

She chooses to focus her novel on two "Taps": Marla, who works in fashion, and Ivy, who is a huge pop star. Both girls are older teens and thus have been working in their respective careers for a few years ---and both have risen to the top. However, they’re gradually realizing that their position is fragile at best, as newer, younger Taps are rising through the ranks and threatening to turn older kids like Marla and Ivy into has-beens. When Marla does, in fact, experience a huge reversal of fortune, she begins to talk with other, less fortunate employees of the high-fashion house where she works, and begins to wonder whether teens really hold all the power --- or are merely pawns in someone else's game. As for Ivy, she's feeling resentful of the increasingly outrageous trends she's forced to model in her public appearances and nervous about a younger musical rival with a very different aesthetic. When Marla and Ivy's paths cross, might they create opportunities for a different kind of future, one with actual choices?

MATERIAL GIRLS more or less successfully integrates some current social issues in a way that will get readers thinking without necessarily preaching at them (Dimopoulos does include a lengthy list of resources on everything from the environmental impact of textile production and waste to the labor conditions for garment workers). The novel is also suspenseful and engaging, as chapters alternate between Marla's first-person narration and third-person chapters told from Ivy's point of view. The ending wraps up a bit too quickly and (in one girl's case, at least) too neatly, but the novel offers something much more complicated and provocative than a simple happy ending. Instead, readers are left not only with the memory of a good story but also with a lot of food for thought.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on May 22, 2015

Material Girls
by Elaine Dimopoulos

  • Publication Date: May 10, 2016
  • Genres: Young Adult 13+, Youth Fiction
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 0544671732
  • ISBN-13: 9780544671737