Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Review: Beautiful by Cindy Martinusen-Coloma

by Cindy Martinusen-Coloma (website)
Inspirational YA (November 2009)

Because this is not my typical book, I will not do my typical review style.

Ellie is perfect, or so it would seem. But she feels there is something missing. Her perfect school record, perfect boyfriend, perfect looks... it doesn't feel as fulfilling as it once did. When a tragic event changes the lives of everyone around her, Ellie is forced to redefine what she thought about life, about God, about love... about beauty. 

Heat Level:
On a scale of Vanilla to Dark Chocolate, this was very vanilla. Beautiful love story, but no sexuality, which is appropriate for the young audience.

Teen Speak: 10/10
I used to run a youth center. That means that I spent every day for several years with over 200 teens. Reading YA novels can sometimes be difficult for me because I feel like the authors don't understand teen culture. This was so not the case with Martinusen-Coloma. She is either the mother of teenagers or is incredibly intuitive (or has done a lot of research. This book was right on the pulse of teen culture. I would be willing to bet that you could hand this book to anyone in this country under 18, and they could find someone to resonate with. But it's not inaccessible to adults. That takes a lot of talent. Adults who read this book will get insight into the minds of teenagers, and teens who read this book will find their thoughts on the page, and their culture represented by the characters. Right down to the things that many teens struggle with: drugs, sex, and rock'n'roll. While there is no explicit discussion of any of these, she is able to simultaneously skirt the culture and give an accurate picture at the same time. Really, probably the best teen-culture-type book that I've ever read before. I highly recommend that you pick it up just to get a sense for how teens are thinking in the world today.

The Mocha Factor: 25/25 (Minor Spoilers in this Section)
This category is typically reserved for whether or not I could raise a drink with the heroine (whether she was a caricature, or a real person). But the heroine in this book is so different from what I normally read. I still judge characters by whether or not I'd want to hang out with them if they were real people, so I called it the Mocha Factor. But I wanted to address something about this very real heroine that made me engage so deeply with her. This girl has it all, and she either loses or gives up everything of value, only to receive back what she never could have known she could get. So her life is very real. I think we all go through a time like that, where we feel like we have all our poop in a group, and then everything just gets royally turned on its ear. And in that moment, we all hope that everything will be right again, but it's so hard to believe that. Ellie deals with what life gives her in very real ways. Sometimes that means she questions God. Sometimes that means she does damaging behaviors. Sometimes that means she doesn't seek out comfort from others. I was so impressed with the way Cindy Martinusen-Coloma handled this character. Masterful.

The Everyman Factor: 23/25 (Minor Spoilers in this Section)
This category is normally reserved for the hero and his sexy-but-deep-ness. This book had sort of an unconventional romance, although there was still a romance. But from the beginning of the book, Ellie is with someone. And there are two sort of heroes in the storyline. Part of me wanted her to be with the one she didn't end up with. But the one she did end up with was just such a beautiful person... so deep, so compassionate, so unexpected. He was a great hero. The thing I really appreciated about Ellie's relationship with Ryan (her boyfriend at the beginning of the book) was that it was true-to-life. Sometimes you don't know a good thing when you have it. And sometimes you feel like you should feel more than you do. That's very real. That's something that you don't typically see in romance novels. So I appreciated that. And the relationship she has at the end of the book is a truly beautiful product of grace. Both people are able to be invested in each other, and to provide hope for the future. There was an amazing tension for me between wanting her to be with Ryan and wanting her to be with Will, and I think that's such a teen angst. She did a great job of making me feel teen angst again! :-)

The God Factor: 10/10
Those of you who know me know that when I read Inspirational books, I often have a hard time with the saccharine sweet religious stuff. Now, I went to Seminary, so I am not bothered by it because I don't believe. What bothers me, instead, is that most of the faith that's written in Christian novels is faith that I can't relate to. It's the sort of blind determinism that frustrates me. This book was a breath of refreshingly sweet reality when it comes to how she treated the faith of the characters. There were some whose faith was solid through the book, but Ellie (understandably) goes through a crisis of faith, and it was just so profoundly realistic, especially to the age of the audience. I was so impressed with the way Martinusen-Coloma wrote this particular element.

The Nostalgia Re-Read Factor: 10/10
This is one of those books that I'm not only going to read again, but I'm already compiling a list of teens I know that I want to buy this book for and send to them immediately with a little note about how important they are to me and how much I value their perspective on the world. This book made me miss working with teens in a major, major way. 

The Skim Factor: 7/10

So, I did skim a little bit. I found myself, especially toward the end, needing to know what happened and not being held in the story that was going on. I wanted to know what happened with Ellie and her boys, mostly. And I was less invested in Ellie's relationship with her sister once it seemed like they were going to reconcile. I will say, it was mostly the fact that I was emotional and impatient. But also because I wasn't being held by the story at the end, and that's frustrating as a reader, to feel like the author is standing in the way of the ending. Still, in general, I would be willing to bet that not everyone would skim as much near the end as I did.

The Little People Factor: 9/10
The interesting thing about this book was that there were several minor characters who played a very important role in the story. In general, she treated them well. I felt like Ellie's parents (and maybe this was intentional) were less present than I would have expected, given what their role in her life seemed to be. The book definitely focused on other relationships in her life. And I really felt like the relationship with her grandfather was a little less interesting than I expected. But, as I said, in general, they were well-done. All of the teen secondaries were just spot-on. I kept thinking... I swear, I know that kid! :-)

Overall Evaluation: 94/100
Fantastic. That was the word that lingered in my head after I finished the book. I was crying, I was emotionally touched, and I was so overwhelmed by how profound this book was. (Oh, and I did not get this book from the author for promotion, if you're thinking that's why I'm endorsing it so much... I won it in a blog contest, and almost didn't read it because there are so many other books in my TBR pile right now.) But I am so grateful that I picked this book up yesterday to check it out. I opened it to read the first page or two before I went back to work. Two hours later, sniffling, I closed it and thought... Wow. That was Fantastic. Beautiful was beautiful. I was so impressed with the way she treated the subject of beauty, and the idea of teens and their struggles in life. I could imagine reading this book as a high schooler and being profoundly touched by it. I'm so excited that this generation of teens has a book like this to speak to them about beauty and expectations and faith and tragedy. Truly, this is a book I would recommend to anyone, no matter what age, but I am immediately going to buy copies of this for all the teens in my life. This is a must-read book for them. Must. 

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