Sunday, June 12, 2011

BR: Ordinary Beauty

bu Laura Wiess

Can you believe it? I read a book! Which is lame coming from a book lover and blogger, but it’s been a crazy couple of months so I’ve been reading so little. I feel really privileged to have a chance to read this book by a wonderful author.

Summary (goodreads)

How can you make someone love you when they won’t? And what if that person happens to be your mother?

Sayre Bellavia grew up knowing she was a mistake: unplanned and unwanted. At five months shy of eighteen, she’s become an expert in loneliness, heartache, and neglect. Her whole life she’s been cursed, used, and left behind. Swallowed a thousand tears and ignored a thousand deliberate cruelties. Sayre’s stuck by her mother through hell, tried to help her, be near her, be important to her even as her mother slipped away into a violent haze of addiction, destroying the only chance Sayre ever had for a real family.

Now her mother is lying in a hospital bed, near death, ravaged by her own destructive behavior. And as Sayre fights her way to her mother’s bedside, she is terrified but determined to get the answer to a question no one should ever have to ask: Did my mother ever really love me? And what will Sayre do if the answer is yes?

My Expectatiosn: having really liked Leftovers and Such a Pretty Girl by this author, I expected a dark but still powerful book.
Delivery: While it was overall a great book, I did find myself disappointed at times.
Put-down-ability: 7/10

My Thoughts

Ordinary Beauty is not ordinary by any standards. Neither is Sayre, and she is easily one of the most sympathetic narrators I’ve ever read about. To say she had a troubled childhood is a huge understatement—her mother is a drug and alcohol addict who has never treated Sayre like a child but rather as a burden. As she is let down time and time again by someone who is supposed to care for her, it was honestly a heartbreaking reading experience.

It’s always difficult to read such a dark book like this one, but while I found it powerful in many ways, I felt slightly unfulfilled after finishing. My main qualm with the novel is that I wish a lot more happened in the present time, and that's just a personal preference. I would say 70-80% of the novel is a flashback, and while the flashbacks were heartwrenching, I started to lose interest near the end. Why? For me, it felt too expository—too much of a narration. I never felt enough personal growth from Sayre through the turmoil, it seemed like an extremely lengthy step-by-step recount of her life.

Granted, this recount is disturbing, eye-opening, and deeply emotional, but when it is told in a “this happened, my mother did this, then I did this” format, I just find my emotional attachment waning. Few characters felt truly three dimensional; I felt that the characters Sayre took comfort in, such as Ms. Mo and Aunt Loretta, were stock characters in a story of abuse. Can I add that I hated the mother? Hated. No sympathy whatsoever, and it takes some pretty significant things to elicit such a response. Sayre Bellavia was a brilliant character though, as the years of neglect mount up she manages to remain true to herself and deal with the mounds of crap in her life.

There is much to rave about in Ordinary Beauty, starting from the subject matter. It looked like Wiess didn’t even think twice about tackling with nothing but 110% as she created a carefully twisted and gritty novel about mother-daughter relationships, love, addiction, and hope. The relationship between Sayre and her mother is bound by their family tree, but little else. The simmering resentment is painful to read about, but Wiess really depicted and fleshed out these searing emotions spectacularly. Also, the prose is freaking beautiful. It’s simple but still vivid with descriptions, it’s emotional yet practical, and I could really get a sense of Sayre’s character because of this.

Rating in HP Terms: Acceptable
Recommended for: people looking for a more dark (I hesitate to say "issue book" because I don't believe in such a ridiculous genre) but still beautiful contemporary YA
Acknowledgements: none in ARC :(

8/10 – because while I really liked getting invested in such a gutsy book, I had some issues with how things were told. The pacing didn't really work for me this time around (there was too much history) and I did feel let down by most of the characterization. That said, it’s a well-written dark contemporary novel that deals with extremely difficult topics, and I commend the author for never shying away from messy details. Ultimately, I wish there could have been a bit more to the novel, but I enjoyed it nevertheless.

source: author/publisher
author website

Ordinary Beuaty is released June 14, 2011


  1. Yeah, I seriously have issues with books stuffed with flashbacks, but it's great to hear that Sayre (OMG pretty name alert!) is fully sympathetic. At least you don't hate the MC, right? :P

  2. It's understandable. If so much is in the past tense and to the percentage you say then how in the world do you see that character growth. You don't I guess. This was on my wishlist but I'm wavering a bit now. I love my meaningful books that make you think, but not so sure about this one. I know the author is damn talented though. I just adored such a pretty girl and How it ends: AMAZING!

    Thanks for the honest review hun :)

  3. I like dark and gutsy contemps but I like the story to move quickly. I might check this out eventually. Great review :)

  4. I probably would have had the same reaction, Audrey. With the topic being such as it is, you need to be able to make an emotional connection, not just to the horrors of the past, but to the happenings in the present.

    Very thoughtful review. Thanks!

  5. This sounds very interesting. I love intense, emotional books. The flashback thing is a little odd in that it's so much of the book. Still, it seems fascinating.

  6. I've been wanting to read a Laura Wiess novel for a while, but I'm thinking I'll put this one off. Which would you recommend to a first-time Laura Wiess reader?


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