Isabelle Laflèche’s YA novel Bonjour Girl tells the story of Clementine Liu, newly arrived from Paris to New York City to begin her sophomore year at the elite Parsons School of Design. The novel embraces a Sex and the City meets The Devil Wears Prada vibe and covers such varied topics as cyberbullying, corrupt fashion students, mother-daughter relationships, and the lack of diversity in fashion.
A transfer student from the Paris branch of Parsons, Clementine immediately feels off-kilter in Manhattan. She unintentionally strikes a sour note with a few classmates and is appalled by the ultra-competitive atmosphere until she meets a new friend, the funny and talented Jake, who appreciates her eclectic fashion sense. Laflèche, in quick succession, adds a number of elements to Clementine’s story: a gorgeous fashion photographer as a love interest; conflict regarding the fact that Clementine’s aunt is an instructor at Parsons; a villainous classmate who bullies Clementine on campus and on Twitter; and the strange and unexpected revelation of how Clementine’s mom and former boyfriend drove her decision to move to New York.
Bonjour Girl aims for a mixture of effervescence and sophistication, but it doesn’t entirely hit the mark. While it initially seems Clementine is a dedicated young woman to root for, her bafflingly fast successes and her reliance on chalking up big emotions to her dramatic French blood are off-putting. And her predictable romance and the novel’s secondary characters tend to fall into clichés. The writing is at its best when Clementine and her friend Jake are discussing and dissecting fashion. But those moments get lost over the course of the story. Instead, there’s too much focus on hazy and hastily solved concurrent storylines – as if a whole season of Sex and the City were crammed into a 288-page book.