Book Review: Gloss

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Author: Marilyn Kaye
ISBN: 978-1-4472-2397-9
RRP: $16.99

Gloss has been sitting on my shelf for a little while and it beckoned me but I really wasn’t sure what to expect which is why it’s taken a while to pick it up. It is set in New York in 1963, a completely different time to those we live in now. The media release that I received with the book describes Gloss as Mad Men meets The Carrie Diaries, neither of which are shows that I have watched though I have heard of them.


Gloss magazine is a very popular teen magazine in the early 60s and eight very lucky readers have managed to land a dream internship at the New York based magazine for the summer. Of the eight girls we only really get to know four of them well: Sherry, Donna, Allison and Pamela. These four girls have all applied for the internship for very different reasons and they are extremely different young ladies.

As the narrative unfolds we learn each of their stories and watch them grow, I am really looking forward to following the series so I can track their journeys further.

In the 60s it was still very much a mans world, women were expected to be wives, mothers and homemakers – a meaningful career and opportunities for advancement were rare and hard fought; usually at the expense of a husband and family. Gloss has many female staff members and most of them are single but most of the editorial positions are filled by men.

Sherry is our only southern intern and she is very much the southern belle. Cheerleader, beauty pageant finalist, prom queen and going steady with a football player and her entire future mapped out ahead of her. The reasons she applied for the internship are unclear, even to Sherry. Her future plans never included a career let alone one in journalism, perhaps it was just the idea of a summer of freedom in New York before she settled down to college and her journey to a happy family life in the suburbs. The stringent social rules of her upbringing follow her to New York but it isn’t long before she discovers that they won’t do her any favours in the long run.

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Allison comes from a wealthy Bostonian family, very set in their social circle, but Allison doesn’t really fit with that circle. She applied to Gloss because she wants to change the magazine, from the inside. Rather than seeing them print the same things as all the other teen magazines with the same fashions, the same trends and the same mindless music she wants to bring folk music to the attention of the masses and have the girls who read Gloss open their minds to all the options available out there.

Pamela is looking for a fun-filled summer checking out all the high class places in New York, preferably on the arm of a sugar daddy. Her style is much flashier than the other interns and she thinks the Gloss fashions are drab, she is a believer in the motto ‘if you’ve got it flaunt it’ and she does. She wants to stand out and models her choices on the big stars of the time.

Donna is the most mysterious of the interns, she is very quiet and doesn’t open up to anyone. It takes a long time for her story to unfold though there are flashback chapters which show how she came to be at Gloss. Donna has had a difficult upbringing and her recent history has only skipped from one difficulty to another, we learn early on that she has dyslexia which makes reading and writing extra challenging for her – and a little confusing to us as to how she came to be accepted into the intern program. We know that part of the application was to submit an essay, which clearly would have been very unlikely for Donna so how did she manage it? We do discover the answer quite late in the book and Donna’s entire story is quite heartbreaking.

Four unlikely candidates for a summer internship at a teen magazine but a summer that sees them all grow and mature immeasurably. They learn a lot about themselves, their view of the world and more importantly their place in it. Sherry finds herself wondering about the private life of the managing editor Miss Caroline Davison and how the life she has compares to the one Sherry has mapped out for herself. She discovers a love of writing and thinking of interesting ways to bring stories to Gloss readers and begins to wonder about a change in her long term plans. Unfortunately she also learns that sometimes having the great ideas isn’t enough, the business world is still very much male dominated and though her ideas are deemed worthy she may not be deemed worthy to write them by a male editor.

I love these characters, I loved looking back at life in the 60s for a teen and thinking about how good we have it now – largely because of the fight put up by females of the past to give us these opportunities. As an 18 year old leaving high school now young women have the world at their feet and can choose to do anything they want. Yes, sometimes it will still be a struggle but the sexual discrimination is very much diminished compared to times gone by and there is no reason why they can’t have the career they desire as well as a family.

An exciting and entertaining inside look at a teen magazine in the 60s and the very different attitudes of the teens of the time, I am looking forward to the next book in the series.

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