Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross


Bought this ages ago back when most of what I read was YA, found it in a box and decided to read before keeping or giving away. Here's the thing, BELLE EPOQUE is shallow and superficial, but part of that is the point: it takes place in Parisian society and the heroine is a girl who unknowingly contracts with a semi-secret agency that hires girls to be "repoussoirs," or repulsers, basically. Ugly girls who hang out as hired companions with plain girls to make them look pretty.

Basically, it's a DUFF escort service.

The heroine is appalled by this. Not out of any sense of feminism, but because she doesn't think she's ugly-- unlike the other girls at the agency, who she kind of feels deserve to be there. I thought this was hilarious and it is exactly how an outraged teenage girl would think. That said, I don't think the author really explored the "girl power" element of this quasi-dystopian as well as she could have, and it ends up giving a lot of mixed signals. Like, it's hard to swallow this message of a girl's value coming from within when the endgame is the girl feeling like she's pretty and being validated by a dude, even if she also thwarts the system. It feels very "white feminism circa 2011," if you know what I mean.

If you're a younger reader who enjoys Bridgerton and the reality TV-like vibes of books like THE SELECTION, you will probably enjoy this, even if your enjoyment of the two aforementioned things is "ironic." I didn't hate this or think it was badly written, but I've read books that explore this sort of concept and time period that I've enjoyed more, and comparison is the thief of joy, as they say.

I would read more by this author, however.

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

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