________________ CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 41 . . . . June 24, 2011


Tori by Design.

Colleen Nelson.
Winnipeg, MB: Great Plains, 2011.
187 pp., pbk., $14.95.
ISBN 978-1-926531-10-6.

Grades 6-8 / Ages 11-13.

Review by Joan Marshall.

**½ /4



When afternoon classes were over, I called Mom. She sounded like she was going to burst into tears when she told me she hadn't seen Gabby. I choked back my emotions. Her flight must have been this morning, which meant my sketches were lying on the coffee table in her locked apartment. I willed my legs to move faster on the walk home so that I could figure out what to do. Break in? Get Ally to go shimmy up the fire escape and crawl through a window? Hand them in a week late and beg FIT to consider my application?

I had only been in our apartment for a few minutes when the door banged open and Dad walked in. Ally sat on his shoulders and held onto his ears pretending he was her horse. "Whoa, horsey! Go to your stable!" she ordered.

"You didn't see Gabby on your way in, did you?" I asked, grabbing his arm.

Dad bent down so Ally could get off. "I saw her this morning when I left for work. She got into a cab going to the airport. Something about a trip to Los Angeles?" he said, tucking in his post horsey shirt and smoothing down what was left of his thinning brown hair.

"I knew it!" I wailed. Hoping to stall a panic attack, I put my head between my knees and tried to breathe deeply. "I left my sketches in her apartment."

Dad bent down to decipher my mumbled explanation and patted my back. "Don't worry. I think she said she'll be back in a week."

"DAD! They are due today! I can't wait a week." I collapsed like a cooked spaghetti noodle. "Forget it. This whole thing has been so much trouble, and I'm sick of stressing about it. It's all I've thought about since we got here." I sank lower in my chair. The deadbolt clicked open and Mom breezed in looking satisfied with herself. "Maybe there's a goat herding internship in Tibet I can do this summer."

Fifteen-year old Tori Edwards' life revolves around fashion design, and so, even though she will be the new girl coming into a prestigious New York high school where her father has been hired to teach, Tori happily leaves Winnipeg and embraces New York with a passion. Although the one bedroom apartment is dingy and cramped and she has to sleep beside her four year old sister, Ally, on a couch, Tori is soon caught up in applying for a summer internship at the Fashion Institute of Technology. And then there's Zak, a yummy art student happy to tutor her in math, with, sigh, a drop dead gorgeous girlfriend, Anna. With the help of new friend, Avery, and a neighbour, Gabby, a fashion stylist who wangles an invite for Tori to volunteer at the fashion event of the year, Tori deftly navigates boyfriend drama and is accepted as a summer intern. What she doesn't count on is her 40 year old mother getting pregnant.

      Tori is a driven character, totally immersed in the fashion world and full of typical teen angst, drama (often caused by her forgetfulness) and self-centred behaviour. Her patient parents support her dreams in spite of their own much more real problems, and Tori is stunned to hear that they have solved some urgent matters without even consulting her. Zak is a stereotypical artsy dreamboat who's not sure what he wants but is oddly happy to carry on a romantic, yet chaste, relationship with Tori after he and Anna part ways. Avery plays the part of the wise friend while the diva Anna finally thaws slightly after Tori fixes her damaged gown at the fashion event.

      New York comes alive as Tori and her family hail cabs, negotiate the subway system and visit fabric stores, markets and coffee shops. The book is definitely set in the present as the teens text back and forth to each other while photos of Tori and Zak out for a walk together are posted online.

      In short, snappy chapters, the narrative marches along smartly as Tori anxiously faces down one problem after another. In the one false note, the novel ends with the family happily and easily accepting that the new baby has Down's syndrome.

      Middle school girls interested in fashion will identify with Tori's commitment to design and to family.


Joan Marshall is a Winnipeg, MB, bookseller.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364
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