Vintage Veronica by Erica S. Perl is a YA novel with a fat titular character. She loves vintage clothes procured from flea markets and is able to land a summer job in a used clothing store (it’s more like a factory). There’s “The Pile,” where rags end up and “poor” customers fight over them (Veronica’s note). There’s the nicer section with real gems, which Veronica finds after consignment appointments. This is no Breakfast Club where the characters come together and learn they’re not so different. There are Zoe and Ginger, the nineteen-year-old bitchy bullies. There’s Lenny, a secretive teen with a limp. There’s Veronica, who’s only fifteen.
Like most YA, there are no adults around. Even the woman who hired Veronica disappears for weeks, and no one knows why. She could be dead. Because in a world with adults, almost nothing that happens would happen. Zoe and Ginger would have been fired (or sent to juvie) ages ago. Child Protective Services would have picked up Lenny. Veronica’s mom would have asked her why she never comes home at the same time. Her mom doesn’t even know about her summer job, assuming instead she leaves every day in her wacky dresses to work at an animal shelter.
I don’t typically like to comment on character’s clothes or appearance. Just let them be whatever emotion they’re trying to experience through dress. However, there is a trope of fat women as clowns — they’re always happy, silly, jolly, and they dress in clothes that match the ridiculous person they are. Veronica’s typical style fits that stereotype:
I’m that fat girl. You know, the one who dresses funny. The one who wears those ridiculous poufy skirts from the fifties that look like she hacked off the top of an old prom dress (because actually, I did). The one who wears them with the vintage guayabera shirts and the men’s bowling shoes and the cat’s-eye sunglasses and the whole nine yards. The one who always wears her hair in two stumpy pigtails and cuts her own bangs.
Veronica’s favorite outfit is a full prom dress with a white men’s tee shirt under it — to wear to work in a hot factory-like setting. I just couldn’t see how she wasn’t being clownish, and for that reason, I was disappointed.
But Veronica’s clown look wasn’t the thing that turned me off from this book. It was the horrible prejudice that was written throughout and never addressed or atoned for. A big deal is made throughout the novel of brown women who work at the used clothing store who don’t speak English. Veronica notes, “. . . they seem thrilled to work for next to nothing with perks like all the dry-cleaning fumes you can inhale.” She says she can smell their homemade dishes heating up at lunch time, “something that smells delicious. Like Mexican food, only better.” To me, this implies Mexican food doesn’t smell good. She won’t talk to them, because they don’t speak English anyway (though she doesn’t really know that; she assumes).
Then there’s the ableism surrounding Lenny, the secretive teen with the limp. Veronica hates him, but figures “. . . he’s a freaking cripple, right? I should be nice.” Although she hates the way people treat her because she’s fat, especially when they want to help her up if she’s sitting on something low, like a curb, she lacks empathy. Her thoughts on being helped up? “I’m fat, okay? I’m not cripple.” And her attitude never changes, though she grows to like Lenny. Regardless, any time he moves she has to think about how painfully, annoyingly slow he is. That must be so HARD for her.
Even the book had an overall positive attitude toward a fat teen girl, and she didn’t become happy through dating or dieting, I can’t recommend Vintage Veronica due to how lacking it is in empathy toward every other type of person. The only way she changes is she no longer thinks of the folks who want clothes from “The Pile” as “poor.”