‘Fashion should be a form of escapism, and not a form of punishment.’ This quote by the late Alexander McQueen resonates throughout Meat Market by Juno Dawson, winner of the YA Book Prize 2020. Whilst on a school trip to Thorpe Park, 16-year-old Jana Novak finds herself scouted by an elite modelling agency, her story a tumultuous journey from obscurity to the front cover of Vogue. Naively anticipating a world of glamour, luxury and hedonism, the hapless Jana gets more than she bargained for.
In her anonymous past, Jana’s days had revolved around school, hanging out with her friends in Nando’s and leading the everyday urban life of a south London indie kid. Bemused to be lauded as the androgynous find of the decade, Jana figures this is her one big shot at fame and fortune and duly signs on the dotted line.
Note the ominous symbolism at her very first fashion show fitting as ‘…the tape measures coil around me like that snake in The Jungle Book.’
Juno Dawson is one of the brightest stars in the YA firmament and here she illuminates the darker aspects of the fashion industry with her usual dry humour and streetwise style. This ambitious novel confronts widespread abuse of power, including perhaps inevitably, a #MeToo experience that defines the subsequent course of Jana’s life. Her trauma is accentuated by life in the limelight, where public discourse allows for a woman to be criticised as so slender that she would look ‘…quite at home on an AIDS ward in the late eighties.’
Is it any wonder that Jana’s mental health is wavering? Self-medicating the dangerous way, she is on the verge of a breakdown.
If you’re wondering, as I was, whether this novel overplays the seedier stereotypes of the fashion industry, Dawson has spoken about her years of research, interviewing models, bookers, editors and designers, Here, her findings translate into a compelling and gritty read, with an authentic London vibe.
Meat Market by Juno Dawson is published by Quercus Children’s Books, 416 pages.