Beyond Vassar

Books Noted

Violet On The Runway:
A Wallflower in the Spotlight Can Do Two Things: Wilt—or Blossom...

By Melissa Walker ’99
Berkeley Jam/Penguin Group, 2007

Violet on the Runway
Violet on the Runway
Young-adult fiction shelves have overflowed in recent years as teen readers voraciously gobble up anything about gossip, celebrity, and glamour. Sadly, many of these books star less-than-ideal role models and messages. But Violet on the Runway, the energetic debut novel by Melissa Walker, isn’t one of them.

For the first of three books in her young-adult series, Walker clearly followed the adage, “write what you know.” The book is set in Chapel Hill, North Carolina (Walker’s hometown), and New York City (her current home), and Violet will likely head to Vassar later in the trilogy. And although Walker wasn’t a teen model like her protagonist, she has worked with plenty of them as an editor at teen magazines ELLEgirl and Seventeen. Walker captures the voices, fears, goals, and obsessions of today’s teens.

The story of a lanky suburban wallflower who is discovered by a modeling scout and whisked into the cutthroat world of high-end fashion, Violet will satisfy teen readers’ seemingly insatiable appetite for paparazzi and Prada. But as lovable Violet questions (and sets out to change) this devastatingly exciting world of sex, drugs, and eating disorders, it’s clear that this is a teen novel any parent can feel OK about feeding his or her teenager. And since Violet is better than most chick-lit novels marketed to adults as beach reads, parents can feel OK about borrowing it from their teens, too.

— Veronika Ruff ’01

Vassar Outlander: A Historic Novel
By Ralph LoCascio ’50
iUniverse, 2007

Vassar Outlander
Vassar Outlander
Mary McCarthy ’33 wrote in The Group of the women of her time who had drawn their membership in the annual rooming lottery and lived together in the tower in Main Building. Her novel examined retrospectively the lives and adventures of a group who met again after graduation. McCarthy depicted them under a sharply focused microscope.

Ralph LoCascio was a “Vassar Vet” in the limited period of the late 1940s and early ’50s. He assembles in his book a diversified group of males who have seen warfare but seem surprisingly free of it as they face the rigors of the Vassar curriculum, which they encounter courtesy of the GI Bill®. This brief period right after World War II (and Vassar’s innova­tive three-year/four-year program) has been neglected by those writing fiction about Vassar. But LoCascio creates his character Frankie, from Newburgh, New York, to be the focus of the ups and downs of the male experience at Vassar during those years. The book is augmented by many statements and clippings in the newspaper press to convey the heightened politics of post-World War II. The best part of the book — which as a whole was well researched — is the portrait of the group of men who came out of the war looking for a way to go forward. One thinks of the current Vassar coeducation in a new light after encountering the harder edges of the veterans’ experiences as they try to return to normal.

— Elizabeth Adams Daniels ’41, Vassar historian

By [Stella] Chuang Hua [Yang ’51]
New Directions, 2007(reprint)

In hindsight it seems hardly unusual that Crossings, the first and only novel to be published by Chinese-American author Chuang Hua, would dissolve unnoticeably after its initial publication in 1968. It’s appreciable why such a work could be lost in the slipstream of that eventful year given its sensuous narrative (the adjective is inevitable) that’s more bewitching in its concentration upon mundane activities than in its dramatic crescendos.

Then again, Crossings, despite its graceful celebrations of cooking, cleaning, and the like, is nonetheless a significant work. It’s credited by many scholars as being the first modernist novel to depict Asian-American life. Moreover, in its own filmy fashion, it, too, bears witness to that undulating time of the late 1960s vis-à-vis its careful cataloguing of the many transitions that a well-off Chinese family undergoes in its physical and psychological passage from East to West.

Stylistically liberated with its quotation-free dialogue and stream-of-consciousness maneuverings, Crossings unfolds with economy and flourish. The story takes as its heading an affair between the fourth daughter of a cultured, close-knit family and a Parisian film journalist. Chuang Hua is exceptional at erecting an emotional atmosphere that tends to give a wide birth to maudlin indulgence. Furthermore, she pulls off a rare feat for a first-time novelist in that her story becomes more, rather than less, engrossing as it goes along. For that very reason, some readers may wish the book were a bit longer. Crossings could be described as the perfect vacation book for nimble-minded people. 

— Christopher Byrd ’99