What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that the family at the center of this story is headed by a beautiful single mom who seduces men for her livelihood and tutors the girls "on everything except school." A sample motherly lesson: "Feel what you will in your heart, Shelby, but catch your men with your guile." The 13-year-old narrator understands that this is shallow, but she and her three sisters still idolize their mother. At barely 13, Shelby is put in charge of her 6-year-old sister. In their attempt to stay together as a family, the girls all run away from their fathers.
What's the story?
Thirteen-year-old Shelby is content with her unconventional home life, shared by her gorgeous mom ("our undisputed queen") and three adored sisters, Marilyn, 15, Lakey, 8, and Maddie, 6. Each of the four girls has a different father; Shelby hardly knows her dad, a Japanese gum salesman who lives in Arkansas. When their mother ends up in the hospital, the girls are sent to live with their respective fathers. Shelby is especially concerned about Maddie, whose father spanks her for wetting the bed and controls all communication with her sisters. Shelby gets to know her father but misses the sisters who "were extensions of myself." When they see a chance to stay together, they seize it, even though it means running away.
Is it any good?
Shelby is an engaging narrator, wiser and more insightful than her mother. Her voice is matter-of-fact: "Sometimes I secretly wished my mother had loved my father. Other times I wished Lakey's father were my father. And still other times I didn't think about the fathers at all." The sisterly bond between the girls is reinforced by an invented code language and many handwritten letters while they're apart. Always vaguely embarrassed by her oddly dressed dad, Shelby's growing connection with her father is touching as they both tentatively try to understand each other.
Older readers will clearly see their mother's desperation, but younger readers may miss some of the subtleties as they view Shelby's mother through her eyes. Even the accident doesn't really change their mother; her lack of epiphany is sad but realistic. The conclusion ties up rather abruptly, but grown-up readers, at least, will wonder if returning the girls to their old life is really such a happy ending.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about what the author means by the title, Outside Beauty. Does she mean outer beauty, or something more? Is Shelby's mom happy with her beauty? When Shelby insists she lives in an alternate universe where beauty isn't the most important thing, her mother replies, "Ain't no such universe." Who do you think is right? Where on TV and at the movies can you find examples of people who agree with Shelby's mom?