Posted on August 28, 2013 - by katy
Macmillan, June 2013
“New York, 1963. Fashion, music and attitudes are changing, and there’s nowhere in in the world more exciting.
Sherry, Donna, Allison and Pamela have each landed a dream internship at Gloss; America’s number-one fashion magazine. Each girl is trying to make her mark on 1960s New York and each finds herself thrown head-first into the buzzing world of celebrity, high-end fashion and gossip. But everything isn’t as glamorous as it seems – secrets from the past threaten to shatter their dreams.” (Blurb provided by Pan Macmillan)
I have to admit that when I read the first few pages of Gloss, I was tempted to abandon it. We begin with a perspective from all-American girl Sherry, but I found it quite hard to digest because the introductory pages were all reportage of Sherry’s recent memories. I’m not going to shout about “writing rules”, but I do think that showing rather than telling is always more gripping in a narrative, and I wondered why the novel couldn’t have started with a flashback instead. I’ve noticed a lot more of this showing-not-telling in YA I’ve read recently, often the result of a necessary information dump in a sequel, but it makes me wonder if it’s becoming more acceptable to simply relate past events rather than bring them to life a little bit more. I’ve even heard of other authors being encouraged to do this by editors as a way of relaying essential information, but I think this info-dumping is not good thing, and it nearly put me off this book completely. The exciting New York setting with a 1960s backdrop compelled me to continue with Gloss, though, and I’m glad I did.
Once I’d got over that first hiccup, I really got into the novel – the social commentary is so fascinating. The past really is a foreign country, as the saying goes. It was extraordinary to see how each of the four girls aspired to finding a man first and foremost, and how magazines for teenage girls at that time ran adverts about the table linen sets one could order as wedding gifts, and how the giving of a sorority ring by your boyfriend meant that eventually you were going to get married. I even discovered that teenage girls weren’t even supposed to wear black! It was so interesting discovering that interns in the 1960s would have been provided with “respectable” living accommodation in a hostel for young working women, with men not allowed past the doorstep. There were so many brilliant nuggets of information in this book, but I never felt knocked over the head by the level of research.
Overall, I found Donna’s backstory the most fascinating, partly because of the subject matter, but partly because her sections were brought to life so brilliantly with the use of flashbacks. I couldn’t understand why this device wasn’t used more to give us more insight into the other girls’ lives, but admittedly Donna’s story is definitely the most mysterious and the slow reveal of information worked very well in her case, and perhaps wouldn’t have been necessary for Allison, Sherry and Pamela. I really liked how Marilyn Kaye uses four girls with different personalities to explore different sides of the social scene in New York, from the Mad Men style cocktail bars that Pamela dreams of to the smoky bars filled with poets and vagrant folk musicians. I think I would have been right with Allison heading down to the East Village and getting hoodwinked by a caddish folk-singer. I so wish I could have experienced the excitement of being eighteen in the 1960s, but equally it must have been a hugely frustrating time for many girls.
So, on balance, despite my niggles at the start of the novel, I would recommend Gloss – it’s entertaining and a fascinating insight into a hugely exciting time and place.
And, of course, huge thanks to the lovely and yet mysterious person at Macmillan who has been sending me proofs lately – I don’t know who you are, but I am very grateful for them!