BARNEGAT – Sophie LaRocca, 19, had every intention of going straight to college after graduating from Barnegat Township Secondary School last year.
“It was definitely in the plan for a while,” LaRocca said. “And then COVID hit and made me rethink a lot of things.”
LaRocca, who was born in Brooklyn and raised in Barnegat, said she originally planned to study fashion marketing at the Fashion Institute of Technology (“FIT”) in New York.
The pandemic has given rise to doubts for many potential students in the class of 2021. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, the precipitous decline in freshman enrollment from 2020 only increased slightly in the fall of 2021.
So what did Sophie LaRocca decide to do with her gap year?
“I always wanted to be a fashionista,” LaRocca explained. “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.
The same year she graduated from high school, LaRocca published her first book. The determined young woman says she is already working on a sequel to ‘Diaries of a Fashionista’ and has a third book in the works.
Although not autobiographical, LaRocca’s approach to fiction incorporates LaRocca’s love of New York, the world of fashion, and the use of words to tell stories. And – she does, with touches of romantic interludes and comedic exchanges.
LaRocca said she started working on the book’s manuscript as part of her high school creative writing class. “Diaries of a Fashionista” bears a dedication to LaRocca’s friends in the classroom, as well as the teacher, the “wonderful Mrs. Blasi”.
“Because if it wasn’t for you, this book would – literally – not have been created,” LaRocca wrote.
Kristen Blasi, a creative writing teacher at Barnegat Township High School, said she had LaRocca as a student in her two creative writing classes. Early on, Blasi recognized that the teenage voice for her characters was always clear and strong.
The face-to-face meeting between Blasi and LaRocca showed proof of a strong bond that exists between them. They represent the successes of each other.
Although Blasi wasn’t surprised that LaRocca would one day become a published author, the book signing took her by surprise.
“I had no idea what was going to happen,” admitted Blasi. “I think I sat on the floor and cried, and it still makes me emotional when I talk about it even now.”
Students taking Creative Writing I de Blasi courses work on developing characterization, plot, moving a storyline, and helping a character move from start to finish.
Blasi said the entry-level course is done entirely through short stories, and LaRocca’s stories are always intriguing and very interesting.
The real 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,” Blasi explained. “We spend a good part of the first scoring period plotting and planning. The rest of the year is about writing pages, attending workshops, getting feedback, and editing.
LaRocca’s first book stands out as a true page turner, with strong character development, visuals, and an engaging plot. The teenager writes from the perspective of someone who has been around for over two decades.
“I’ve been reading adult novels since I was in fifth grade,” LaRocca explained. “I think I have a broader view of the world than a lot of people because I read a lot. I also lived a lot of life in my 19 years.
The story’s protagonist, Poppy Paxton, not only has a closet full of great clothes, but is also 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 into town when I met this very interesting woman,” LaRocca shared. “She was very short with blond hair and very chic and wore expensive heels.”
“I was very petite and she told me she liked my outfit,” LaRocca continued. “It changed my life forever and I remember thinking this is how I want to be when I grow up.”
In a chapter titled “Head Over Heels”, Poppy Paxton pulls out a pair of SJP (“Sara Jessica Parker”) heels. During her interview, LaRocca sported her own stylish SJPs and looked just as fashionable as the character in her book.
LaRocca also creates a great visual of Atticus McKeen, a punk/pop rocker who is 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 their way.
Kayla Hardy, who was also part of Barnegat High School’s Class of 2021, designed the cover for the book. LaRocca did not like the designs his publisher offered him.
“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 still plans to head to FIT, her next step back into the classroom will involve more hands-on work.
“I also love makeup and hair,” LaRocca said. “Right now I want to go to MUD (Make-Up Designory) in New York.”
However, writing continues to be central to LaRocca’s life.
“I always tell my friends that a day without writing is a day wasted,” LaRocca explained. “COVID was awful, but it gave me the ability to sit down and write with no apologies.”
“Diaries of a Fashionista” is available on Amazon and at 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 2 p.m.