Review: Everything Beautiful by Simmone Howell

everything_beautiful.jpg    Simmone Howell
Everything Beautiful
Pan Macmillan, 277 pp.
Source: review copy
Review by Bernadette Gooden

This is a delightful story about the gaining of self-worth in adolescence, the time in your teenage years when you begin to see through your confusion and self-consciousness to the beginning of who you really are and what you might be able to achieve.

Sixteen-year-old Riley Rose has been causing trouble at home. She has lost her mother to cancer and has had to adjust to a new school, in a new town and her father's new girlfriend, all in a short space of time. She has been doing poorly at school, drinking and experimenting with drugs and sex, and been arrested. She is an overweight Lolita Goth chic, has a poor self-image and she is also sick of everyone being in her face and telling her what to do and how she feels. In other words, she's at a bit of a crisis crossroad.

Even with all these problems, her intelligence and humour shine through as she tells us her story. She is an instantly likable and sympathetic character, especially to the 99.9% of girls who weren't born prom queens.

Her father and his born-again Christian girlfriend decide to send her to a religious holiday camp, Spirit Ranch, hoping that teambuilding exercises and spiritual counselling will help her to sort out her problems. Unfortunately, she and her best friend Chloe have planned a big night out at Ben Sabatini's party, on at the same time. Ben is the boy that Riley is in love with, and she and Chloe hatch a plan so that Riley can run away from the camp and attend the party.

When Riley gets to the camp, however, she is confronted by a group of kids who, in there own ways, are having just as tough a time sorting themselves out as she is. They are Fleur, the conceited, self-centred beauty, Craig the jock and Sarita, overprotected and stifled. Siblings Bird and Olive have to pay their own way by working at the camp and the other kids are hateful to Riley because she doesn't believe in God. The other main character is the wonderful Dylan, a boy with a mysterious past that has landed him in a wheelchair, bitter and untrusting.

Riley thinks all the adults are hypercritical holy rollers and finds herself intrigued by the rebellious Dylan. As they all get to know each other, they get to know themselves too, and the story is beautifully structured and well written. There is the added mystery of the contents of the abandoned Fraser homestead on the property, which is a magnet for the kid's curiosity.

This is a story about having an open mind and celebrating individual difference. It also deals with the differences between what kids want to do for themselves and what their parents want them to do. When Riley is feeling confused or upset she often takes us back to memories of what her mother said to her when she was alive, trying to get guidance from that and missing her mother's understanding of who she is.

The story builds up to great climax and resolution for the characters that is realistic, emotional and satisfying. Every character grows up quite a lot, even some of the adults!

I loved this book and gave it to my fifteen-year-old daughter to read, which she did without putting it down. She loved it too. There can be no greater praise for teenage fiction than parent-child agreement on its quality and merit. A very good read for teenagers, however there are drug taking, drinking and sex references. I found them totally realistic to the world my teenagers live in, and it is shown in the story that self-destructive behaviour has its consequences. These topics are handled in a very balanced way by the author. If you are a parent thinking of buying this book for a very young teen, you may wish to read it first.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on October 9, 2009 3:25 PM.

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