Told in the alternating voices of its two main characters, The Fashion Committee is the story of a style-obsessed girl named Charlie Dean and John Thomas-Smith, a boy who’s extremely talented in metalwork but couldn’t care less about clothes. Though the two teens seem to come from entirely different worlds, they both share the same goal: to win a scholarship to an exclusive, private arts high school. Fortunately for Charlie, this year’s scholarship will be awarded to the winner of a fashion competition. But even though John doesn’t know the first thing about fashion, he’s equally determined to find a way to win.
The book’s greatest strength is its strong, realistic narrators. Seasoned author Susan Juby delves deeply into the lives of her two protagonists via the fashion journals each must keep as part of the contest. This narrative device effortlessly allows both teens to write about their truest selves. It’s through these journal entries the reader learns that Charlie lives with her dad following her mom’s death from a drug overdose (and that her dad doesn’t always manage to stay clean either), while John mostly lives with his grandparents, and his mom just pops in sometimes when she’s not working overseas.
Neither of the protagonists has a “traditional” family structure, but while Charlie rarely lets this deter her, John frequently frets about not having the kind of perfect life he imagines the students at a private school must all enjoy. Both of these attitudes are flawed and admirable. Charlie’s determination is commendable, but in key moments her passion clouds her judgment. John, on the other hand, often falls into a “woe is me” spiral, but he’s a hard worker determined to succeed on his own merits.
Though some parts of the story (such as Charlie’s poor decision-making on the day of the competition) feel over-the-top, Juby skilfully keeps the bulk of the novel realistic and relatable, thanks to a few open-ended storylines and imperfect resolutions that will ring true with teen readers.