Vintage Veronica by Erica S. Perl

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.

I kept picturing her hair being like Bridget’s from Trolls, except Veronica says her stumpy pigtails are always crooked and poorly put up.

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.”

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21 comments

  1. You’ve mentioned one of the things that really bothers me when I encounter it: that attitude towards the co-workers. As soon as I read that bit, I thought, ‘Nope. This book is not for me.’ I get what you mean about the way Veronica dresses, too; also not for me.

    • If the author had dealt with the character’s feelings–given her a reason to be prejudiced and then have her grow–I would have been fine with it. We all deserve a chance to grow, right? But nope.

  2. Well, this sounds like an unpleasant book. That thing about there being no adults present in YA always makes me frustrated – in the real world adults do exist, and, like you say, their presence has an impact. It always strikes me as lazy writing when YA authors rely on absent adults to further their plots, because it is not normally the case.

    • I find a whole lot if unpleasantness in my quest to find books in which fat women are treated with dignity. It’s like the underbelly of the book world, I swear. But when I find a good one….oh, what a treasure!

  3. Wow, this sounds pretty bad! It’s sometimes true that people who are picked on for one thing aren’t compassionate towards others who have different “things.” But it’s a shame the author didn’t try to give Veronica a more complex, dynamic inner world/attitude.

  4. Ugh! I don’t think there’s a single bit of this that sounds appealing! But frankly, with kids like those, it’s hardly surprising all the adults went off elsewhere…

    • I’m definitely feeling burnt out on YA, and I think I only read 6 of them this year–all for my reading fat women quest. YA authors are jumping on characters that aren’t straight-sized, so I’m reading a genre I don’t totally enjoy because authors of adult literature haven’t caught up…

  5. YA is full of cliches and the lack of adults is certainly one of them. Veronica would get on my nerves due to attitude towards others. I would find her lack of empathy also off-putting.

    Fair review, this book is definitely not something I will be reading. 🙂

    • I’ve given YA so! many! chances! And so I’m struggling with the conversation about YA being for adults, too. I mean, yes, it’s fluffy stuff that requires little thought, but I’m actually bored most of the time because it’s so simplistic. I think I should write a post about it….

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