Meat Market is a gripping novel about the modern fashion industry and how a whirlwind success story can expose its dark side. Jana Novak is sixteen, lives on a south London estate, and is about to start sixth form when she is scouted at Thorpe Park by a modelling agency. She’s always been mocked for her height, but now it seems it’s a good thing. Soon she is learning the ways of the fashion industry—castings, shoots, fashion week—and being catapulted into the spotlight, but the fashion industry has a dirty side beneath the veneer and Jana quickly becomes acquainted with it.
Dawson turns her trademark bite towards the fashion industry, creating a YA novel that doesn’t shy away from topics such as drugs, sexual assault, and eating disorders, but also looks deeper at the loneliness of the industry and of teenagers becoming famous. What makes Meat Market distinctive is both the no-nonsense approach to these topics and the details of being a teenager. Jana is trying to stay grounded, but the details make the novel itself stay grounded despite the storyline that will be far beyond most readers’ experiences. Jana’s friendships twist and change in a realistic way, but also show that despite the often horrible and seemingly competitive nature of the fashion world, she does make some real connections with people in it that allow the narrative to reach its climax.
As she did in Clean, Dawson shows the young adult novels can (and should) tackle some intense themes, not hiding behind dystopia or alternate universes but make the world feel realistic and yet something most readers won’t experience. For some the subject matter might be a bit too much, but for others it will show the world beyond the Instagram photos.