BARNEGAT- Sophie LaRocca, 19, had every intention of going straight to college after she graduated from Barnegat Township High School last year.
“It was definitely in the plan for a while,” said LaRocca. “And then COVID hit and had me rethinking a lot of things.”
LaRocca, who was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Barnegat, said she initially planned to study fashion marketing at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology (“FIT”).
The pandemic resulted in second thoughts for many prospective college students from the Class of 2021. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, the precipitous decline in first-year college enrollments from 2020 was only up slightly in the fall of 2021.
So, what did Sophie LaRocca decide to do with her gap year?
“I’ve always wanted to be a fashionista,” LaRocca shared. “I also want to be an author, and failure is not an option when it comes to my writing. It’s really important that I get my writing out there.”
In the same year she graduated from high school, LaRocca published her first book. The determined young woman says she’s already working on a sequel to “Diaries of a Fashionista” and has a third book in progress.
While not autobiographical, LaRocca’s approach to fiction incorporates LaRocca’s love for New York City, the fashion world, and using words to tell stories. And – she does so, with splashes of romantic interludes and comedic exchanges.
LaRocca said that she first began working on the book manuscript as part of her high school creative writing class. “Diaries of a Fashionista” bears a dedication to LaRocca’s friends in the class, as well as the teacher, the “wonderful Mrs. Blasi. ”
“For if it wasn’t for you, this book would have – quite literally – not been created,” wrote LaRocca.
Barnegat Township High School creative writing teacher Kristen Blasi said she had LaRocca as a student in both of her creative writing classes. From the beginning, Blasi recognized that the teen’s voice for her characters was always clear and strong.
The in-person meeting between Blasi and LaRocca showed evidence of a strong bond that exists between them. They represent one another’s success stories.
Although Blasi was not surprised that LaRocca would one day become a published author, the book’s dedication took her by surprise.
“I had no clue that was coming,” Blasi admitted. “I think I sat on the floor and cried, and it still gets me emotional when I talk about it even now.”
Students who take Blasi’s Creative Writing I classes work on developing characterization, plot, moving a storyline across, and helping a character move from beginning to end.
Blasi said that the first level course is all done through short stories and that LaRocca’s stories were always intriguing and very interesting.
The true challenge comes in Creative Writing II, when students are expected to write more.
“The goal is to write as close to 200 pages as possible by the end of the year,” explained Blasi. “We spend a good portion of the first marking period just plotting and planning. The rest of the year is to write pages,” participate in workshops, get feedback and edit. ”
LaRocca’s first book stands out as a real page turner, with strong character development, imagery and a captivating plot. The teen writes from a vantage point of someone who’s been around more than a couple of decades.
“I’ve read adult novels since I was in the fifth grade,” LaRocca shared. “I think I have a broader view of the world than a lot of people because I read so much. I also have lived a lot of life in my 19 years. ”
The story’s protagonist, Poppy Paxton, not only has a closet filled with great clothes, but also is a fashion reporter for a major publication. LaRocca said her inspiration for the character came from a chance encounter when she was seven years old.
“I think I was on the bus going into the city when I met this very interesting woman,” LaRocca shared. “She was very petite with blonde hair and very fancily dressed and had on expensive heels.”
“I was very little, and she told me she liked my outfit,” continued LaRocca. “That changed my life forever and I remember thinking that’s how I want to be when I grow up.”
In a chapter entitled, “Head Over Heels,” Poppy Paxton busts out a pair of SJP (“Sara Jessica Parker”) heels. During her interview, LaRocca sported her own elegant SJPs and looked every bit as fashionable as the character in her book ..
LaRocca also creates a great visual of Atticus McKeen, a punk / pop rocker who’s tall, messy and reeks of cigarettes and mints. Poppy and Atticus are neighbors who come from separate worlds – and don’t let their differences get in the way.
Kayla Hardy, who was also part of Barnegat High School’s Class of 2021, designed the book’s cover. LaRocca didn’t like the designs her publisher offered to her.
“I needed something amazing that was Poppy,” LaRocca said. “Kayla understood what I was looking for and I fell in love with her design.”
While LaRocca is still considering heading to FIT, her next step back into the classroom will involve more hands-on work.
“I also enjoy makeup and hair,” said LaRocca. “For the time being, I want to go to MUD (Make-Up Designory) in New York City.”
However, writing continues to be the center of LaRocca’s life.
“I always tell my friends, a day without writing is a day wasted,” LaRocca shared. “COVID was horrible, but it gave me the ability to sit down and write with no excuses.”
“Diaries of a Fashionista” is available on Amazon and from Barnes and Noble. Readers have the opportunity to meet LaRocca and have their book signed at Barnes and Noble’s Brick store on May 14, 2022 at 2pm