Let the Dresses Go: The Jewel by Amy Ewing

 

The Jewel means wealth. The Jewel means beauty. The Jewel means royalty. But for girls like Violet, the Jewel means servitude. Not just any kind of servitude. Violet, born and raised in the Marsh, has been trained as a surrogate for the royalty—because in the Jewel the only thing more important than opulence is offspring.

Purchased at the surrogacy auction by the Duchess of the Lake and greeted with a slap to the face, Violet (now known only as #197) quickly learns of the brutal truths that lie beneath the Jewel’s glittering facade: the cruelty, backstabbing, and hidden violence that have become the royal way of life.

Violet must accept the ugly realities of her existence… and try to stay alive. But then a forbidden romance erupts between Violet and a handsome gentleman hired as a companion to the Duchess’s petulant niece. Though his presence makes life in the Jewel a bit brighter, the consequences of their illicit relationship will cost them both more than they bargained for.

Source: GoodReads

Disclaimer: I received an ARC copy of this book.  This did not influence my opinion of the book.

Before I begin this review I want to say thanks to James from Book Chic Club who was kind enough to send me a copy of this book.

You know, as many faults as there were with The Jewel  I do think it makes for an interesting conversation topic-i.e. feminism in YA.

There ain’t any in this book if you’re wondering.

Obviously, the summary of this book should give you an inkling about some of the issues that are going on-women being used as mere objects to reproduce,essentially treated as slaves/pets, etc.  And yes, the treatment is appalling but surprisingly enough, it’s not where I’m picking a bone with this book.

I expected that whole plot point to be horrible.  In fact, I would’ve been upset if it wasn’t horrible. I will give Ewing credit because some of these issues are addressed.  Maybe not in the most thorough of through ways, but at least it’s addressed which is more than I can say for other YA books (cough, Defy, cough).  That being said though, I wasn’t overly impressed with how gender issues were discussed in this book.

Mainly, because The Jewel tries to rely on the same tropes that The Selection used while ignoring the big picture.

And what trope is that?

The pretty dress and makeover trope.  Or as I like to call it the shallowness trope.

Okay, I’ll admit it.  I’m a dress junkie.  Half of my random picks can be based off of a dress.  And this book was totally one of them.  But can you really blame me it’s so sparkly and princess like.  And every little girl wants to be a princess in a dress ( a pretty, pretty, dress)…

According to Disney Executives and YA marketing advisors that is.

Well, I don’t know if those marketing advisors use the term princess.  But it’s uses the same technique that Disney uses on the younger audience.

Don’t believe me.

Let’s talk about some of your favorite Disney princesses.  How do you identify her?

Cinderella=blue dress

Belle= yellow dress

Rapunzel=purple

Elsa=that out of stock blue dress that one of my friend’s got in a fist fight to get her daughter one (yeah, true story)

You get the point.

I feel like YA tries to do the same thing with their book covers, and sometimes well with the actual content of their series.  And The Jewel  is unfortunately one of those books where this trope is used, much like The Selection.

All the meat about  gender issues that the book could be exploring in more detail, were for a large part neglected because we had to go into numerous paragraphs of dress porn.

Per example:

At five to seven, I stand outside the doors to the ballroom dressed in a pale green gown that makes the footman’s eyes pop before he can stop himself.  The bodice leaves my shoulders bare, and the skirt falls to the floor in layers like the petals of a flower, their edges woven with glittering crystals.  A choker of diamonds wraps around my neck and diamond earrings hang from my ears. (282)

Fine.  Fine.  I get it.  Apparently, readers like dress porn and we can just read paragraph upon paragraph of it.  But it almost seems silly when we have a story that actually has or should have a lot of issues discussed that don’t involve pantyhose.

After eighty pages of a Toddler and Tiara-ish like auction, I could really care less about how someone wore their hair.  I mean, really do you want more descriptions after this:

I blink rapidly, trying to reconcile her with the image I had of myself in my head.  The image of a pretty girl, slightly plump, full face, big eyes.  The woman I am looking at now is stunning.  Beautiful.  Her cheeks seem thinner, molded to accent her high cheekbones, and her eyebrows arch delicately over luminous eyes, lined in rich purple with accents of lilac and gold.  Her lips are glossed in pale pink, and her hair tumbles over her shoulders in thick curls, one side pinned up with a jeweled clip, encrusted with amethysts that form the shape of a butterfly.  There is a shimmer to her skin, almost as if she’s glowing.  The color of the dress works perfectly and its simplicity only makes her features stand out more (54)

And it’s sort of sad that’s what the author and the publisher thinks that you as a reader want to read.  Maybe I wouldn’t have minded it so much if the story wasn’t so dark and twisted.  I mean, yeah the pretty dresses did add atmosphere but the wrong sort of setting.  Instead of having Violet focus on her dress, shouldn’t she be more or less scared about her future of being a living incubator.  Or despising the dress more than being wowed.

It just seemed so out of place.

And once again, gimmicky to get apparently the shallow female audience to read.

If this would’ve been taken out, I think the book would’ve been a lot stronger.  There were some strong themes there, that made me want to keep reading it.

The world building itself, though only halfway formed is intriguing.  Again, if the dresses haven’t been the main focus then maybe it could’ve worked.  Or at least if I would’ve gotten some explanation to why everyone named their kid after some sort of gemstone or color.

Oh yeah, technically the descriptions used to describe people in the book are almost as bad as their names.  Everyone seems to be associated with some sort of food or gemstone for no apparent reason.  Case in point:

Her skin is a rich caramel color, with eyes nearly as dark as her hair, shaped like almonds and set in a perfect oval face. (4)

To say the least, that gets really jarring after awhile.  I really don’t know why the editor’s pen wasn’t marking that sort of stuff out before they printed the ARCs.  I know if I would’ve been the one at Harper marking up this book there would’ve been lots and lots of red marks.  The food descriptions can be not only offensive but they are amauterish-I totally remember describing a characters eyes as looking like olives way back in the fifth grade.

As for character building.  Well, I did like the villain surprisingly enough.  I think it was because she was the most well formed character in the book.  The protagonist.

Stupid.

Stupid.

Stupid.

Dumb.

Dumb.

Dumb.

I mean, if you were being forced to be a surrogate would you have unprotected sex without wondering about the consequences from your psychopath mistress?

Yeah, thought so.

It didn’t help that she seemed to have no sense of self preservation in the book and completely relied on others to do her bidding.  I mean, I wanted to feel sorry for her.  But after awhile I was like, stop thinking about how pretty the dress is and actually do something.

Well, the only thing she did was instantly fall in love.  With a male gigolo.  Whose motives we told are pure, but I really have to wonder.  Really, I thought romance was not even necessary with this one.  It was a strong enough story without it.  Taking it on the way it was, just seemed silly.

Overall, I think this is an interesting book to read not because it is written well or really has a good message, but because it is an interesting conversation starter.  I really did not like the way things were prioritized here (seriously, pretty dresses over basically being a human incubator) and I think it might be wise to start looking at these things more in detail in YA.

I like to read for fun, but when you do target issues like this, I think that the subject matter discussed in the book should relate to the issues it raises.  Hearing about what Violet wears to dinner, doesn’t add anything to the conversation that matters.  Instead, it makes the consumer feel manipulated and unwilling to by a Violet playing the Cello Barbie (shoes and Cello not included just pretty dress).

Overall Rating: C.  I have hopes for the future book, but you need to get serious and stop trying to make Violet a Disney princess.  Though now that we are talking about princess…I did find this adult Elsa looking dress that I might buy if you know, there’s actually some life event in my life that requires evening wear.

Dress porn, I swear.

 

Advertisements

One thought on “Let the Dresses Go: The Jewel by Amy Ewing

  1. Pingback: Gender and YA Tropes | Howdy YAL!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s