More Than Fashion
Julie Hong’s Korean parents want her to be a doctor, but Julie dreams of a career in design. A win at Comic-Con gets her onto a Project Runway-type reality show called Behind the Seams. The night before filming starts, Julie tackles her nerves by drinking heavily and picking up a hot Brit in a bar, only to learn the next morning that Gavin Bennett is a fellow competitor on the show. The book could use more details about the setting, and could have strengthened the characterizations of Julie and Gavin as designers. But on the whole, there’s something addictively page-turning about this New Adult read.
I liked the momentum of this book. It never dragged, zipping from pickup to challenge to challenge. I also liked that I couldn’t predict the outcome. Gavin and Julie are rivals and only one can win, and I genuinely had no idea how the author was going to resolve this conflict. Ultimately, I think she made a good call, but one which could have been better (I especially face-palmed at a profoundly financially irresponsible choice Julie makes after the competition ends.)
Julie is, by her own admission, “bitchy.” I liked the self-awareness. When hungover Julie falls asleep during the challenge and Gavin wakes her up, Julie wonders to herself if she’d have been so helpful to another competitor, which is realistic. However, her hostility towards Gavin was problematic. I understand a twenty-one year old college student worrying about getting too serious too fast, but if I’d been in Gavin’s shoes, I would have assumed that anybody who talked to and treated me like that sincerely hated me.
Julie shows very poor decision-making when she gets completely wasted the night before the show starts and picks Gavin up in a bar for an anonymous one-night stand. I’m not judging her for the anonymous sex – Julie’s open, unconflicted desire to have sex and enjoy it was perfectly fine. I’m judging her for making herself so hungover that she can barely function in the opening challenge, which no passionate designer should do, and for making herself vulnerable with a stranger while incapacitated. I did love that Gavin, when he realized how drunk Julie was, refused to have sex with her despite her objections. I’m not into bad boys, and Gavin, despite some tattoos, is one of the nicest men I’ve encountered in NA.
The descriptions of the final product outfits for each challenge were interesting, and I did get a sense of Julie and Gavin’s aesthetics. I wish the characterization of Julie and Gavin as designers had been less superficial. During challenges, we get lots of Julie internal-monologuing about Gavin, but hardly any of Julie thinking about design. Given a time-limit excursion to scrounge materials for free in New York City, Gavin and Julie have leisurely conversations about Gavin’s past and their relationship before Julie looks around and decides that she’s inspired by leaves. There are no details or technical knowledge to make Julie seem competent, let alone to make her seem passionate and talented enough to make it in such a cutthroat industry. Gavin has some technical skills, but by his own description, he’s motivated to design for his dead sister. He needed to do it for himself.
As with the design component, the depiction of reality TV world is good but incomplete. I definitely got a sense of the exhaustion and isolation of the pressure cooker of a set, and the show, like actual shows, has its share of decisions made for drama rather than for legitimate design. The author used the challenges and setting effectively as a way to force Julie and Gavin apart and bring them back together, with things like team challenges and a private bedroom for winners. The show aspect never felt repetitive, and the relationship grew steadily over time. On the unrealistic side, everyone took for granted that the winner of the show was set for a career in fashion, but any reality viewer knows that most never make it.
In a lot of scenes, I lost track of whether Julie and Gavin were on or off camera and mic. Julie was incredibly casual about being sexual with the cameras rolling. At one point, she and Gavin have sex in one of the rooms with cameras, and you know they have night vision on those suckers. The book ends when the show stops filming, which means that the author left so much on the table: Julie and her parents watching the sex stuff unfold, Julie watching Gavin and seeing him as a third party, Julie seeing Gavin’s interviews, Julie learning about herself from the way she talks and acts… so many missed opportunities!
If you’re looking for an unusual New Adult setting, a non-white heroine (plus a very diverse supporting cast), and a book which drives forward at a fast pace without giving away where it’s going, then you may enjoy this book. I certainly didn’t have any trouble motivating myself to finish it. With more detail, it could have been even better.