Outside Beauty

Common Sense Media says

Golddigger mom takes daughters along for the ride.

Age(i)

2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17

Quality(i)

 

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The girls try to run away several times. Much of the questionable social behavior is by their mother. In her narcissistic way, she trains the girls to focus on their looks to "catch" men. "My mother decided she wanted us all to be . . . sexbombs, each in her own way." Shelby says she practices manners from the heart, while to her mother, "manners were just a way of getting another bauble." The family picks up two hitchhikers. Shelby calls Maddie's father KIA (for know-it-all); he tries to impose order and rules on the girls.

Violence

Maddie's father spanks her. A new boyfriend shouts at their mother and insults her; when she tells him to leave, he says, "I won't leave until I get what I paid for." (He does eventually go.)

Sex

Shelby's mom has four daughters by four different men. She uses men to support her with gifts and money; her daughters divide them all into "minor boyfriends" and "major boyfriends" (their fathers). Their mother goes off with a car mechanic she just met, prompting Shelby's older sister to say their mom likes S-E-X.

Language
Not applicable
Consumerism
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Marilyn, 15, starts smoking when a man gives her cigarettes. She says "Good job, sweetie," when her 6-year-old sister puffs on it. Shelby makes her younger sister stop. Shelby says her mother and her boyfriends drank too much.

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.

Parents say

Not yet rated
Review this title!

Kids say

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?

QUALITY
 

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?

Book details

Author:Cynthia Kadohata
Genre:Family Life
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Atheneum
Publication date:June 3, 2008
Number of pages:265
Publisher's recommended age(s):12

This review of Outside Beauty was written by

About our rating system

  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

Find out more

Quality

Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About our buy links

When you use our links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. Thank you for your support.
Read more

See more about how we rate and review.

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Teen, 14 years old Written byh8rPatrol December 21, 2010
Adult Written byalbertanson April 9, 2008
AGENot rated for age
QUALITY
 
Teen, 13 years old Written byBetty L. April 14, 2013
AGE
12
QUALITY
 

Another great book by Cynthia Kadohata!

OUTSIDE BEAUTY was an awesome read! I enjoyed it thoroughly and was engaged by the writing. I am a fan of Cynthia Kadohata, and I love the way she writes! You can totally relate to Shelby and how she feels about everything, from her mother's relationships with all the girls' fathers to worries all teens have. This is a quick read, a taste of honey in between all those kind of lame, cheesy books out there. Great! I recommend all Kadohata's novels!!!
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Too much sex
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking

Poll

Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?

Common Sense Kids Action