Thirteen-year-old Shelby is one of four sisters- all of whom have different fathers. The girls are close, in spite of their differences, and they live with their free-spirited mother, Helen, who sees her beauty as her biggest asset. When she gets into a nasty car accident, the girls are each sent to live with their fathers: sixteen-year-old Marilyn remains in Chicago with her father, who is as free-spirited as their mother; eight-year-old Lakey is sent to California to live with her stable, dependable father (who is the only man their mother has ever really loved), and Shelby and six-year-old Maddie go to Arkansas. Shelby’s father is a gum salesman she barely knows, and Maddie’s father believes he is an expert at child-rearing, and uses this expertise to try to mold Maddie into the ideal daughter while he has custody of her. Though Shelby, Marilyn, and Lakey adapt to their new situations easily enough, they notice Maddie’s personality begin to change as their contact with her is gradually cut off. When they are briefly reunited in Chicago, the girls take drastic steps to try to keep from being separated again.
In Outside Beauty by Cynthia Kadohata, the Kimura girls have long been told that beauty is what is important, and they have seen many men fall under the spell of their mother over the years- including their fathers. And the flaws in their mother’s values have led to some flaws in their own values, but at the end of the day, they realize there is something more important than beauty, or finding a man to suffice for a time: nothing is more important to these girls than their family unit. When separated, they want nothing more than to be together, and to reassure Maddie that things will work out, and she won’t be stuck with her father forever. Yet the girls also learn that it is possible to have relationships with their fathers without sacrificing the family they’ve grown used to in each other.
I thought this was a good read, and it was enjoyable enough. But I didn’t love it. I read a lot of young adult lit, and I just wasn’t all that excited about this book when I was done. I guess I was expecting something a little more profound- maybe a deeper understanding on Shelby’s part of her role in the eclectic family that her mother has managed to assemble for her daughters. Of course, this book may be just the right pace for someone in the target age range for this novel, and it’s certainly a better option than some of the more selfish characters in young adult literature today. I intend to read more by Kadohata in the future, but it’s not high priority at the moment.
Rating: 3.5 stars
Publisher, ISBN: Simon and Schuster, 9780689865756