Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Time-Traveling Fashionista by Bianca Turetsky

Bianca Turetsky's The Time-traveling Fashionista is a nice change from the usual young adult novels of vampires, zombies, and strife-filled future worlds. Twelve year old Louise Lambert is a "fashionista" with a flare for vintage. She lives with her mother and father in a "large rambling Tudor home" in Fairview, Connecticut, has braces, and a best friend named Brooke.

One day Louise receives an unusual invitation to a vintage sale called The Time Traveling Fashionista vintage sale. When Louise arrives at the location of the sale she finds a decrepit, musty store run by two odd ladies; tall, red-haired Glenda and small, mousy Marla. Searching through the racks of clothing Louise locates a powdery pink gown which smells like fish. Although Glenda and Marla attempt to dissuade her, Louise insists that this is the dress for her. When Louise tries it on, she blacks out only to awake on the deck of a steamship traveling from England to America. The date, according to a newspaper, is April 12, 1912.

On board the steamer, Louise is known to everyone as Alice Baxter, an accomplished 17 year old actress. Louise doesn't ask what the name of the ship is and perhaps that is in part due to her being only 12 years old and her not paying attention to her history teacher's lesson just the other day, about a special event in 1912. To everyone on the ship, she looks like Alice, but when Louise sees herself in the wardrobe mirror in her stateroom, she sees her real self - a twelve year old girl with braces.

At first she tries to enjoy herself, reveling in the beautiful dresses, the delicious food, and the handsome gentlemen. Louise meets the famous Lady Madeleine Astor, the young wife of millionaire, John Jacob Astor,  and Lady Duff-Gordon, who, in 1912, was a well known English fashion designer of couture. But when she learns that she is on the ill-fated Titanic, Louise is no longer interested in having fun. She alone knows the fate of Titanic and she is panic-stricken. She must warn Captain Smith to change course. When she attempts to do so, the Captain becomes angry, telling her he will not have her alarm the ship's passengers. She is forced by Miss Baxter's personal physician to her room where she is sedated.

Glenda and Marla appear to her in a dream and tell her that she cannot change history and that the key to saving herself is the dress. When Louise awakes, she reveals her true identity to her maid, Anna and they seek to try to either change the course of the Titanic or escape. They are unsuccessful.

Glenda and Marla finally tell Louise that she must find the dress, which has been sent to the Titanic's laundry. Without the dress, Louise will remain trapped in 1912 and on the sinking Titanic. Desperate to help people on the ill-fated ship as well as to find her dress, Louise enlists the aid of her maid, Anna. Will Louise succeed in saving herself? Is it really possible she cannot change the course of history and save thousands of lives?

The concept behind this novel was interesting blending fashion, history and time travel, but it seems to never reach its full potential. The heavy foreshadowing (see below) and then the history lesson by Louise's teacher, Miss Morris, steers the reader to the inevitable conclusion as to where Louise will time travel. Despite this, Louise herself, seems to take forever to figure out where she is. I am certain that the Titanic's name would have been on more than just the hull of the steamship!

There is plenty of foreshadowing in the novel. For example when Louise has a dream one night before she goes to the vintage sale, she dreams she is in a grand ballroom rather than the gymnasium at school - a foreshadowing of the Titanic ballroom. She awakens at 2:20am - the time the Titanic sank. The dress she picks out from the sale smells fishy, suggesting that it had been soaked in sea water, also another foreshadowing of being near water and boats.

There's not really much characterization in the novel, as the story is mostly action driven. We know Louise fairly well, but her parents are just shadows in the background and even Brooke and Anna are mostly just one dimensional people who support Louise and her obsession with clothing. Glenda and Marla could have been interesting characters in the novel, but they were never fully developed. Again early hints suggest what the reader later learns; they are witches. The large number of cultural references will likely date this novel.

There are a more than a few weaknesses in the storyline. For example, Anna seems remarkably self-possessed when Louise tells her who she is and proves her identity. Readers may be confused as to why Louise ends up in Alice Baxter's body rather than just being herself on the Titanic and the question of where Alice went while Louise was Alice, was never answered. It was also puzzling as to why the author made her main character so young. I would think it would be very difficult for a 12 year old to pass as a mature 17 year old one hundred years ago. The author utilizes Louise's fainting as an explanation for her inability to recognize people and remember names of close associates.

The characters which Louise meets onboard the Titanic are all real people who were on the ill-fated boat in 1912. Bianca Turetsky's website has a short slide show featuring information on Captain Smith, Benjamin Guggenheim, and Jacob and Madeleine Astor.

Really the best feature of this novel is the lovely drawings done by fashion illustrator, Sandra Suy. Not many young adult novels are illustrated these days and it's one thing publishers should take a second look at considering our media is predominately visual. I remember one of the biggest enticements to reading Louisa May Alcott's books were the lovely coloured plates throughout her novels in the Little, Brown editions. I would take these books home, read them and draw the dresses in those plates.

Suy's drawings are detailed and very elegant, giving readers a good idea of how each beautiful article of clothing looks. Illustrator, Sandra Suy lives in Barcelona, Spain, where she was born and where she studied art at La Llotja. One complaint I have here is that there is no information given on the illustrations for the novel. If you'd like to see more of Sandra Suy's work check out her Tumblr page.

The book trailer from Turetsky's website is below:

The Time-Traveling Fashionista Book Trailer from Bianca Turetsky on Vimeo.

This book should appeal to younger teens and is part of a series. Turetsky has already written a second book, At The Palace of Marie-Antoinette.

Book Details:
The Time Traveling Fashionista by Bianca Turetsky
New York:  Hachette Book Group       2011
263 pp.

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