Axelle Andersen has a family connection that many sixteen year-old girls dream of having: her aunt Venetia is the editor of a well-known fashion magazine based in Paris. But despite her mother’s constant, almost desperate encouragement to make use of her long legs, Axelle does not want to become a fashion model. Having a knack for figuring things out and a deep desire to uncover the truth, Axelle would much rather pursue a career as a private investigator. Unfortunately, her drive gets her in trouble, and her parents decide to strongly encourage her to consider other career options by sending her to Paris for a week to intern as her aunt’s assistant. Things start looking up for Axelle’s aspirations when a well-known fashion designer disappears and she finds herself in the perfect place to solve a big case that would lend her hopes credence with her parents, thus opening the way for her to pursue her passion with their full support.
Although I doubt many teenagers want to become a private eye or want to look worse than they actually do, the lessons in this book remain universal. To be able to pursue her passion, Axelle hides what she really looks like. She explains that she does so to be able to blend in with the crowd. Why would she have to do so? One reason is that society trained us into unjustly tuning out people who look a certain way or paying more attention to those whose looks correspond to a narrow definition of beauty. Society also portrays beautiful people as having it easier, making Axelle’s looks as a barrier to her aspirations a thought-provoking twist. Also, her desire to become a detective makes Axelle look down at those working in the fashion industry; but by the end of the book, Axelle has learned that she should not be making judgements about a world she knows nothing about, for it could offer her the very thing she wants.
Author Carina Axelsson also tackles the concept of false dichotomies. Axelle wants to become a private eye; her mother wants her to become a model. The two careers seem to be at odds, seemingly leaving Axelle and her mother in a struggle where only one option is viable. Axelle comes to realize that there is no need to make a black and white choice, and that there is a way of combining her mother’s wishes for her daughter with Axelle’s ambition.
Well written and engaging, Model Undercover: Paris, the first in a series, takes us into the world of fashion and modeling as we follow Axelle for her week in La Ville-Lumière during fashion week. A light-hearted, fast paced, and clean page-turner, it would make a great summer read. Under the author’s skilled pen, a world of renowned designers, big egos, and big names become as natural a setting as your average North American suburban utopia. For while some authors throw names around like bricks disturbing the natural flow of the story, Axelsson uses her experience as a former fashion model to make this integral part of her story seem like a day to day occurrence. If the author keeps developing Axelle’s many complexities, she could become quite a healthy role model.
First published on Sahar’s Reviews on 13 May 2014.