Review: Material Girls by Elaine Dimopoulos

Material GirlsPublished: May 5, 2015 by HMH Books for Young Readers
Pages: 336
Format: e-ARC

In Marla Klein and Ivy Wilde’s world, teens are the gatekeepers of culture. A top fashion label employs sixteen-year-old Marla to dictate hot new clothing trends, while Ivy, a teen pop star, popularizes the garments that Marla approves. Both girls are pawns in a calculated but seductive system of corporate control, and both begin to question their world’s aggressive levels of consumption. Will their new “eco-chic” trend subversively resist and overturn the industry that controls every part of their lives?

I’m not big on fashion. I have next to no interest in it, really. But when I received an e-mail from NetGalley about Material Girls, I decided to give it a shot. The tagline (“Revolution never goes out of style.”) interested me, and I really liked the style of the cover. I’ve also been trying to expand my reading horizons where I can, so I’m glad I gave this book a shot.

Material Girls is a bit of a mashup of fashion, science/speculative fiction, and satire. It also brings up a lot of points about sustainability in the fashion industry, society’s obsession with celebrities, and worker’s rights. I thought what it was aiming for was interesting, but the novel isn’t super lengthy, and while it covered angles about celebrities, fashion trends, and environmental awareness well, there just wasn’t enough time to focus on other aspects of the story, which left it feeling like it had spread itself a bit too thin. That said, I thought it excelled when it came to discussing issues of environmental sustainability and the downright absurdity of some fashion trends.

When I initially picked up Material Girls, I was expecting a dystopian society with a focus on the fashion industry, and that’s sort of what you get, but there doesn’t appear to be any kind of militaristic government or anything, like you might see with a lot of other current dystopian/speculative fiction novels. In Dimopoulous’ novel, our current expectations of how the job industry works, and how a lot of major entertainment industries work, has been turned upside down, and she built her world’s society around that concept. I really liked how she switched things up, but on the other hand, I REALLY wanted more history on how this society formed. While teens often start some of today’s trends, their opinions and ideas also generally aren’t treated seriously and aren’t given the same weight that you would see from an adult, so how did the Junior and Superior Courts come to exist? I thought it was interesting that the teens in this society were given the majority of the power in the fashion, movie, and videogame industries – or at least, they had the illusion of it.

This book also has a TON of characters. I was a bit overwhelmed at first. It alternates between Marla’s chapters, which are told from a first-person POV, and Ivy’s are told from a third-person POV. Both of them have their own cast of characters in their narratives, and the number of names adds up really quickly. It would have good to see the cast culled a tiny bit, so we could see more of specific characters in the supporting cast – I felt like there were maybe a few too many to really get to know anyone outside of Marla and Ivy, with very few exceptions – but the characters Marla and Ivy associated with added much different tones to their stories, and I did like that aspect of it. It just would have been nice to see more development in the supporting cast.

The pacing is also fairly slow, so this book won’t be for everyone. Toward the end, the pacing does pick up quite a bit, but while things are happening early on, the book takes a while to get where it’s going, and that will make some readers turn away. That said, I thought the issues Material Girls explores are important ones, and I think it’s worth giving this book a shot to see if it works for you.

There are some darker undertones to the story, and I would definitely like to see those explored more in future novels in this world, if possible. Material Girls seems like a deceptively light novel at first glance, especially compared to a lot of other novels that explore similar issues, but it’s also quite unsettling once all is said and done.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for the opportunity to read this book!

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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