By: Isabelle Lafleche Publisher: Dundurn Publication Date: August 2018 ISBN: 978-1459742000 Reviewed by: Skyler Boudreau Review Date: September 2018
In this young adult novel, readers follow fashion student Clementine Liu as she navigates her way through Parsons School of Design in New York City. Not long after she arrives at school from Paris, France, she launches "Bonjour Girl," a fashion blog that blows up overnight and catapults her headfirst into the world of fashion journalism. When a jealous classmate begins to cyberbully her, Clementine must find a way to overcome the online abuse and help the bully’s other victims.
While attending Parsons, Clementine lives with her mother’s cousin Maddie, who serves as both a mentor within the fashion industry, and the maternal figure her own mother failed to provide in France. Maddie helps her apply for scholarships, encourages her when she is facing difficulties at school, and is an all-around incredibly supportive figure. This relationship is one of the most distinctive details of Bonjour Girl. Adult family members are often absent in young adult novels or merely serve as obstacles to the protagonist. It’s refreshing to find a story that highlights a positive familial relationship as this one does.
Diversity and inclusivity are major themes throughout the novel. Artistic industries can sometimes seem like exclusive clubs, and Clementine’s goal in her coverage of fashion journalism is to change that. She’s steadfast in this mission and her determination to make an impact is inspiring. The time she spends constructing her blog and interviewing subjects for it are easily the most enjoyable parts of the story.
Clementine is a college sophomore, yet she reads much younger and less mature, more like a sophomore in high school. It’s easy to forget how old she is and incredibly jarring to be suddenly reminded that she’s almost twenty, and not fifteen or sixteen. Some readers might find this off-putting. She also frequently comes across flat and under-developed. She often blatantly states her character traits and flaws, such as when she says, “I guess my insecurity comes from my mother who taught me that if you get a part, you’re taking it away from someone else” (Lafleche 76) to a classmate within five minutes of meeting him. There’s little room for the reader to infer anything on their own, and it makes Clementine come across as unrealistically self-aware.
One of the biggest drawbacks to this novel is its inconsistency. Characters completely change personalities, going from friendly and supportive to hostile and angry without any warning or reason why. The sudden, unexplained conflicts between characters can leave the audience confused and having to reread sections in search of something they might have missed. These conflicts come across as superficial and detract from the main plot.
Bonjour Girl has a lot of ups and downs and is not for everybody. The overall message the main storyline sends is wonderful and encouraging. It’s a highly positive book, to the point of being unrealistic. It felt as though the plot and characters were used as tools to deliver that message, rather than deliver a story. Bonjour Girl is marketed as a young adult novel, but older, teenaged audiences may find it lacking.
Quill says: Great for middle school students with an interest in fashion and romance.