A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this is a stark and gritty story of a middle class 13-year-old girl who moves to a new school and chooses to stop being a good girl; to lose her virginity as quickly as possible and embrace drugs and alcohol. Her father is emotionally abusive and her mother is alcoholic and neglectful. She repeatedly has consequence- and protection-free sex with her boyfriend. She abuses drugs (acid, pot, and more) and alcohol without consequences. Her friend (with a horribly dysfunctional family) beats her up. A romantic relationship with another girl develops -- the most tender part of the book. There is one tragic death, but it's not enough to really turn this into a cautionary tale -- just a bleak one filled with every kind of very mature content.
What's the story?
Cassie is 13 years old, and on her first day at a new school she wants to leave her boring old life behind. New friends quickly introduce her to drugs and alcohol, and she tries acid and loses her virginity in just a few days. At first she is shocked by her new best friend's life: her mother is a drunk and abusive, her father hung himself. A half-sister, Sarah, moves in with Alex's family because her father raped her. Cassie herself has no problem hiding her drug use and drinking from her alcoholic mother and often absent father. Cassie is drawn to a girl named Sarah in a romantic and tender way; Sarah is passive, vulnerable, and scarred. Sarah may be Cassie's way out of her self-destructive cycle, but not in the way she expects.
Is it any good?
This book has been compared to Go Ask Alice, one of the first novels to graphically describe a teen's life on drugs, but BEAUTIFUL is more shocking. It's about young teens abusing all kinds of drugs under the nose of neglectful parents who range from poor to affluent, with no apparent lessons learned. The main character is smart, pretty, and middle class. It's never clear what her motivations are for choosing a dangerous lifestyle other than a desire to be "beautiful." It's hard to say what teens are supposed to take away from this book; without consequences for such self-destructive behavior this is simply a voyeuristic look into the lives of some of the other characters who do suffer great abuse. Consequently Cassie's story remains blurred.
But writer Amy Reed has style, even when her prose sounds too sophisticated and articulate for a young teen, particularly one who is disturbed. The authentic narrative voice almost never slips, and may make a story about a 13-year-old still appeal to older teens ready for a very edgy read.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the desire many teens have to recreate themselves. How difficult is that for middle school kids? Why did Cassie want to change her life?
What are some normal consequences of drug and alcohol abuse? Why are drugs illegal?
Cassie puts up with intimidation and some roughness from her friend Alex. How can kids protect themselves from people like Alex? Did you think Alex was really her friend? What about Sarah?
Cassie has sex with her boyfriend but she doesn't seem to really care for him. Why was she sleeping with him? What was she risking?
What do you think happens after Cassie starts a new school and leaves Alex behind?
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