Eighteen-year-old shy, suburban aspiring model Catherine Watson longed for adventure, for a life less … ordinary and moves away to pursue her modeling dream in New York City. When she is “discovered” by the hottest fashion designer in the pages of Vogue magazine, “Cat” thinks she has it all as the New York fashion world’s new “It” girl.
Her life is thrust into an alternate universe, where star-studded cocktail parties, casting calls, go-sees, and nightclub openings revolve around her like constellations and she tries to play the part. Her former self, “Catherine,” was now a shadow of who she was, and what she was becoming.
“At that moment, it hit me. I was a mere mortal in a room full of demigods: actors, actresses, legends of stage and screen … whom the rest of the world had pined for, had paid to know the secrets of. Here I was … cavorting with twenty-first century royals.”
Leaving her good-girl image behind, Cat quickly learns things aren’t always what they seem on the catwalk, and she’s faced with a decision that will change her life forever.
CW: this book contains sexual abuse, substance abuse, alcoholism, disordered eating and body shaming.
Eighteen-year-old Catherine longs for an exciting life, far away from her ordinary suburban reality. Her wish is granted when, after moving to New York City, she’s discovered by one of the greatest fashion designers around. Almost overnight, sensible, shy Catherine leaves the stage to glamorous, “It Girl” Cat. But as she starts moving through parties, casting calls and fashion shows, Cat slowly realises that not everything on the catwalk is as it appears and fame comes at a high cost.
Catwalk is an engaging read offering an interesting look at the fashion industry and what happens once the shiny veil is lifted. The author herself has past experience as a model and this certainly shows in the detail in which she can paint the industry, its glamour and its dark side alike.
Cat herself is a compelling main character and I loved seeing her development arc. At the beginning of the book, she’s a fairly typical eighteen-year-old, looking to find her place in the world and falling for the sparkle of the fashion industry. Once she reaches the top of the industry, however, Cat is forced to confront reality and the (often) non-airbrushed, ugly truth of being rich and famous. Cat is admirable in the way she questions her new life and her own morality, trying to decide just who she is and, just as importantly, who she wants to be. Her growth was really satisfying, and I felt like cheering her on throughout, even as she made mistakes and tried to learn from them.
Where this otherwise good book fell incredibly short for me was in its representation of non-American characters, and the Italian characters in particular. Their representation is stereotypical at best, bordering on offensive. Almost all the Italians in this book seem either sexual predators or enablers and, after finishing this book, I can’t recall a single positive Italian character disassociating from this.
In a book that is trying to provide an accurate picture of an industry, I frankly would have expected better in terms of research as well. The Italian characters here sport mostly French-sounding names and consistently speak in grammatically incorrect Italian, and there is also a reference to the non-existent Italian revolution (which I assume was supposed to be the unification). All of these could have been easily fixed with some additional research and, coupled with the negative representation, is the main reason preventing me from giving this book a higher rating.
Overall, Catwalk is an entertaining read sporting a compelling protagonist, likely to appeal to fans of contemporary YA despite its problematic representation of foreign characters.
This review was originally published on Reedsy Discovery on 10th June 2021.