Friday, July 29, 2016

Book Review: "An Innocent Fashion" by R.J. Hernández

"I always tell myself, for every thing I loved which I have given up in life, there was something that I gained...Sometimes I know that it's a lie, but—it's what I tell myself. And this is what you must tell yourself too...Tell yourself every day. Otherwise, one day you'll turn, and you won't recognize your dream, or yourself."

Growing up in Corpus Christi, Texas, Elián San Jamar knew he was destined for a life of greatness, far beyond his dull, working-class upbringing. He dreams of a life of beauty, class, and culture, which puts him at odds with his father, who has traditional ideas of what constitutes a masculine ideal. Yet he is unbowed, poring over fashion magazines and waiting for the moment his life will change. And no magazine signifies the realization of his dreams like Régine, the leading New York fashion tome.

Under the guidance of a tough high school teacher, Elián is able to get a full scholarship to Yale, and leave Texas behind. At Yale he reinvents himself as Ethan St. James, an impeccably dressed student who seems ready-made for the high-class life he has dreamed of. He befriends Madeline, a wealthy young woman with ambitions to shake up the political world, and Dorian, the beautiful son of a famous fashion model, who show him the finer things in life that he has missed all of these years.

After graduation, Ethan achieves his dream—an internship at Régine. He knows it will be the first step toward becoming the magazine's fashion editor, and he looks forward to spending his days surrounded by beautiful fashions and gorgeous models. But all too quickly Ethan sees that the dream isn't all it's cracked up to be, as he is treated with barely veiled contempt by some of his coworkers despite his hard work, despite his desire to succeed in the industry. Then he realizes that just wanting something isn't enough, just working hard doesn't always get you what you want. And that is where Ethan starts to unravel, when he realizes that life and success in this dog-eat-dog world isn't about what you know, it's about who you know.

An Innocent Fashion is part social commentary, part psychological study of what it's like to pursue your dreams unceasingly, and what it's like when you realize your dreams aren't what you thought they'd be. There are elements of The Devil Wears Prada but it's not as satirical, and there are familiar elements of fish-out-of-water stories, when the poor young man finds himself in the midst of the world of privilege and excess.

I enjoyed this book but felt it wasn't sure what it wanted to be. I enjoyed the story of Ethan's childhood and how his dreams of being a part of the world of Régine sustained him. His work at the magazine was entertaining at first, and some of the lessons he learned were profound, but his poor treatment at the hands of coworkers grew repetitive after a while. And while I enjoyed his complicated relationship with Madeline and Dorian, I just didn't understand what message the book was ultimately trying to send, especially with the ending.

This is R.J. Hernández's first novel, and he definitely has storytelling ability and a talent for social commentary. Ethan was a complicated and interesting character (although a not altogether sympathetic one), and his journey made for a compelling read.

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