Book Review: “Tales From My Closet” (And My Overall-Tutu)

It all started with my sister posting a picture on Facebook with the comment, “Who the hell would wear this?” Answer: I would, and I do.

The article of clothing in question is this overall-tutu from Urban Outfitters. The second I saw the picture, I was besotted. When I tried it on, I knew we were meant to be.

I wear a shirt under it.
I wear a shirt under it.

Ridiculous? Oh yeah. But it’s one piece of clothing that I feel sums me up. The overalls are a nod to my formative years, the 1990s, when grunge and angst were king. The tutu wraps up my passion for dance (of 29 years and counting) and my love of all things pink and fluffy in one fell swoop.

My sister still thinks I’m nuts. My best friend called me Carrie, as in Bradshaw, and he didn’t mean it as a compliment. It barely fits under my winter coat and takes up three seats if I’m not careful. I wore it to a dinner party and I know all the earth tones and jeans were judging me. On the other hand, my performer friends think it’s fabulous. And more importantly, so do I. Ballerina grunge, baby.

So it’s fitting that I received Tales from My Closet in the mail from Scholastic. I have no obligation to review it but you better believe I’m going to. Author Jennifer Anne Moses knows just how significant clothes can be, and her debut YA novel is frothy-yet-thoughtful fun.

Image: goodreads.com
Image: goodreads.com

Tales from My Closet follows five high school girls from Westfield, New Jersey, or “planet Toilet Paper” as new girl Justine calls it. Each of them have their special pieces: for Justine, it’s a vintage paper dress that she wears on a first day of school gone horribly wrong. For Becka, maybe not such a mean girl, it’s the raincoat of the older Frenchman who romanced her over the summer. Swimmer Polly is self-conscious about the size of her butt in her new white jeans, and of her working-class status; socially awkward Ann lies to her parents about joining debate team when she really wants to start a fashion blog; and wannabe designer Bianca struggles to set trends while dealing with a less-than-ideal home life.

Don’t let the fluffy cover fool you: Tales from My Closet has a great deal of substance. (You know, much like how wearing overall-tutus doesn’t lower my IQ.) Bianca may be addicted to shopping, but she’s got a great work ethic and isn’t given nearly enough credit by her mother. Also, her dad’s an alcoholic getting worse by the day. Polly worries when her mother buys nice things because money’s been tight since her own father walked out years ago. Justine suspects her parents’ marriage is on the rocks, Ann wants to live up to the image of her perfect older sister (who, surprise, was on the debate team), and Becka’s popular-girl existence isn’t nearly what it’s cracked up to be.

Besides being a journalist, Moses is a trends commentator and lifestyle reporter for NPR, and it shows: she knows how an article of clothing can take on a meaning of its own for the wearer. (Hey, remember the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants?) Though I feel it gets slightly after-school special at times, Tales from My Closet has intelligent, well-developed female characters; some really nice humorous moments; and resonated with me (far out of my teens) with the idea that the right outfit can mark an occasion, illustrate a feeling or even change a life.

Of course, life isn’t all overall-tutus.

Life is also the crappy, hole-y jeans from 2007 that you wear on a blustery Chicago night to your favorite greasy diner, where you exchange Christmas presents with your two best friends, a month late. Where you remind yourself you are loved, and that the three of you have made your very own tradition.

Tales from My Closet is now available in bookstores and ebook (Amazon, Barnes and Noble). For more about the author, visit http://www.jenniferannemosesarts.com

Published by

The Unprofessional Critic

Lauren Whalen is a freelance writer living in Chicago. She reviews plays for Chicago Theater Beat (http://www.chicagotheaterbeat.com) and talks about movies on The Film Yap (http://www.thefilmyap.com). Lauren's young adult novel is represented by Chalberg & Sussman Literary Agency. Say hi to her at maybeimamazed02(at)gmail(dot)com. (Photo by Greg Inda)

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