Sunday, February 20, 2011

Clothes are More than Just Apparel

Vintage Veronica
Who wouldn't love to work at a thrift store, being the first person to sift through the garbage and find the treasures?! I can just imagine finding all those beautiful dresses from the 1950's and 1960's. I still look around (new) shoe stores for a pair of black shoes with the strap that comes up the front of the foot and connects to the strap around the ankle like my great grandmother wore all her life. Those shoes are in every sepia toned picture of a life I never knew with people I love. They are nostalgia personified. My grandmother's green dress and strand of flawed pearls (that were flawless to me). My grandfather's Italian suits with the mobster collars that cover the tie knot. Clothes may seem purely functional, but the emotions attached to them are what make me keep my "ouchy" shoes that look so cute and the adorable skirt that scratches. In Vintage Veronica, by Erica S. Perl, the clothes may be the background to the story, but for me, they were a main character!

Veronica lied about her age to get a job at a multilevel thrift store most famous for it's "Dollar a Pound" where the worst of the worst is sent unceremoniously sliding down a long chute to the bottom floor. There it sits in a large heap called "The Pile" where the "pickers" come to rifle through stained, torn, tattered clothing to buy for a dollar a pound. Veronica doesn't work at Dollar a Pound. Nor does she work on the Real Deal floor with the other floorons where they sell the better finds. Veronica works in Employees Only! and she loves it there- no customers, no people, no one to mock her for her size or general undesirableness. All that's there is the clothes she loves. A fashion guru of an unexpected sort, Veronica loves clothes. Her outfits are unconventional, full of bowling shoes, crinolines, and 60 year old prom dresses. Veronica is quite simply a thrift store personified!

Veronica hides in Employees Only! and sifts through the clothing, deciding the fate of each piece. Her limited interactions involve her crazy boss who disappears for the entire summer and The Nail. The Nail is a sickly young man named Len. Len comes to get the clothes to bring to Real Deal or unclog the Chute, but they don't really interact. When the two real Deal girls, Queen Bee Zoe and Pleaser Ginger (although they aren't called that in the book, it is difficult not to label them as such) come to Employees Only! to scope out Veronica, she can't resist their gravitational pull. Even though Veronica knows Zoe is toxic, she can't help but being drawn to such a loud and forceful girl. When an unexpected friendship strikes up with Len, Veronica is happy whole floors separate them all so Zoe and Ginger don't know about her time with Len.

The more time Veronica spends with Len, the more she realizes how special he is. He shares with her all his snakes and lizards- reptiles that take the place of people in his life who he cares for from birth until death. He even gives her a small corn snake to take care of and shows her Violet, his beloved blue-tongued skink who is suffering from a rare bone disease. All is going well, and Veronica is finally opening up to someone (Len), when her vintage worlds swiftly collide. Zoe finds her way up to Employees Only! and suspects something is up between Veronica and Dead Man Walking (Len). When she spies the snake Len gave Veronica, Zoe manages to get a hold of it despite Veronica's concerns. Next thing you know, the doughnut shop next door erupts in screams and Veronica knows Zoe is behind it. She rushes to the shop to find the snake dead on the floor. As if this isn't bad enough, Len overhears Zoe grilling Veronica about him, and he hears Veronica make fun of him. Now she has to find a way to make it all up to Len, but when he leaves the store, she thinks it's hopeless. She quickly learns there are things about all her coworkers, Len included, she never thought were possible.

I was torn about this book at first, but the more I think about the story and the characters, the more and more I like it. Veronica is a girl who has never fit in, so she dresses in these fabulous and kooky outfits to set herself apart even more obviously. That way, it becomes her choice to be different and an outsider- not the people who rejected her. She doesn't have any real friends and when Len comes into her life, it takes her a long time to open up to him. But like a lot of girls out there, when the Queen Bee comes to her, she can't resist the possibility of finally being accepted, even if it means losing a real friend like Len. I think when I first read this book, it was the way she treated Len that bothered me. I liked Len, even though he was a bit odd. But I also work at a high school where I see girls make these decisions all the time. Sometimes they realize they have lost a real friend, sometimes they don't. It was hard to "watch" at first, but the beauty of that was just how real the scenarios were.

I think my discomfort with the story at first was how accurate it all was. In my book, that is a good discomfort- it opens our eyes and gets us to look within ourselves. That is why I think this book would be great for those Veronicas out there- the girls who feel uncomfortable in their own skin and choose to put that on display rather than to hide it. These are the girls who join roller derbies and end up being amazing, strong women in a few years. In fact, this story made me think of Ellen Paige and her "Juno" and "Whip it" awkward loveliness. In fact, a chubby Ellen Paige is exactly who I see as Veronica. I think those girls need to see there is more out their for them than just skating around the edges. They can belong without belonging to "that" group!

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