I sat back and considered my words. They had to be enough to get me in. After all, I alluded to the loss of my mom without mentioning any of the désagréables details, and I talked about the constant moving without getting into the foster homes and the times we’ve lived in the car. I think it is best not to get too specific about Jacques’s career as a lower-echelon DJ and sort-of songwriter. If I get too honest in the application, the organizers might be worried about exposing the other students to me.
The Fashion Committee, by Susan Juby

This year, the focus of the annual scholarship contest to Green Pastures Academy of Art and Applied Design is on fashion. Applicants who are accepted into the contest will take part in a one-day intensive workshop at Green Pastures, and then will have two months to put together—on paper and then in fabric—a design for their chosen model. The winner receives a one-year scholarship to the Green Pastures Fashion Program.

Charlie Dean lives for fashion. John Thomas-Smith knows nothing about it. They both apply.

The Fashion Committee is a companion to The Truth Commission. It’s a companion in the usual, obvious way, in that it’s centered in and around the same place, and references characters and action from it. But, less obviously, it also deals with, complements, and parallels the same themes of the first book. It’s very much about the masks that we wear in dealing with different situations; about wearing different faces for different people; and, because of the fashion theme, it’s about how clothing choices and design can speak volumes, can be political.

In The Truth Commission, we saw Green Pastures as a vibrant school full of passionate students who had access to anything and everything they wanted or needed in order to pursue their goals and create their art. In The Fashion Committee, we see Green Pastures as a school for students who are economically privileged—out-of-reach for young artists like Charlie and John. And so, in a way that never feels didactic or preachy, it deals with how poverty and income inequality pertains to and affects education. It’s not just a matter of better facilities—though that’s true, too, in that Green Pastures has everything, while the public school that Charlie and John attend is in the midst of cutting program after program after program—it’s a matter of access to opportunities.

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It deals with how our past—even things out of our control, like other peoples’ actions—affects our future, and how we learn to try to mitigate the possible damage. The excerpt that I opened with above, for instance, is about Charlie trying to balance telling the truth and telling TOO MUCH of the truth. It’s honest about how people who need help are forced to walk a line—to give do-gooders a hint of tragedy without scaring them off. And it deals with addiction and how it relates and intersects with interactions with police—it shows us why someone with a history of addiction might be hesitant to contact the police for help.

Like The Truth Commission, it’s also a friendship story—about beginnings and endings—and a story about family. Like The Truth Commission, there are a million parallels between characters and story arcs and images and conversations. Like all of Susan Juby’s books, the voices are beautifully clear and distinct, the characterization is rich and detailed and three-dimensional, and it’s sad and funny and thoughtful and smart and deals with a whole lot of tough stuff in a complex, nuanced, respectful way… while still feeling like a story to read outside on a sunny day.

And I know of what I speak there, because I did indeed read it outside on a sunny day. And if the sun ever comes back out again up here in Maine—you can’t see me right now, but I’m shaking my fist at the overcast sky—I’m going to bring it outside and read it again.

In addition to running a library in rural Maine, Leila Roy blogs at Bookshelves of Doom and The Backlist, is currently serving on the Amelia Bloomer Project committee, is a contributor at Book Riot, hangs out on Twitter a lot—possibly too much—and watches a shocking amount of television. Her cat is a murderer.