Revenge of a Not-So-Pretty Girl

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Revenge of a Not-So-Pretty Girl Book Poster Image
Teen's positive turnaround mixes with iffy beauty message.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Kids will be briefly introduced to New York geography as Faye ventures from her Brooklyn neighborhood to a Manhattan nursing home.

Positive Messages

Faye knocks a woman unconscious, but the only consequences she suffers are her own guilt and remorse. Faye herself is thin, but of the dozen or so references to people who are overweight, all are very negative except one, and that's only marginally positive at best. Caught shoplifting, there are no legal consequences but Faye's traumatized by a related event. Underage drinkers don't get caught, aren't punished, and suffer no consequences. Faye makes a lot of mistakes along the way, but learns from them and by the end starts to modify her behavior in positive ways that give hope for her future. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Faye does some bad things, but except for the drinking she knows they're wrong, feels guilty, and tries to set them right. Faye's mother is physically and emotionally abusive, and one of Faye's teachers is mean to her. Other adults in her life are kind, responsible, caring individuals but only one really influences Faye's development. Faye has lots of disadvantages to overcome, but she's remarkably resilient and has a great deal of inner strength.

Violence

Faye's mother beats her with an extension cord. Faye, her friends, and her mother all engage in hitting and punching, and in one altercation Faye is nearly suffocated with a pillow. Fights and beatings are described realistically but not in great detail and without blood or gore. The pivotal incident in which a woman is knocked unconscious and abandoned is the only one for which we see any consequences, but not from authority figures.

Sex

Two deep kisses with tongue are described, and the boy wants Faye to "feel something" adults will know is his erect penis, although it's not specifically named. Faye's friends discuss what each "base" means but no body parts are mentioned. Faye's first menstrual period is described vaguely, from the point of view of someone who knows nothing about it (she thought she sat on spilled Hi-C), and concentrates mainly on her mother's unhelpful reaction.  Faye and her friends look at a Hustler magazine and describe what they see, but again without mentioning any body parts except the big-breasted woman on the cover.

Language

Faye asks, "What the hell am I, a dog?" and refers to a "fat-ass" cashier. In one confrontation a character says "s--t" repeatedly, and elsewhere something is a "crock of s--t."

Consumerism

Brands popular in the '80s are mentioned -- Betamax, Jheri Curl, Michael Jackson's "Beat It" jacket. Also MacDonald's and Reebok.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Faye sneaks alcohol on two occasions, is not caught, and suffers no consequences from authority figures. She mentions one positive effect of alcohol (conversation changes topic frequently) and one negative effect (you have to pee a lot). At her mother's command, Faye mixes alcoholic drinks for adults, and is also told to add rum to a cake mix for a "grown folks" dessert. Adults drink alcohol (not always prepared by Faye) in social or holiday situations. Her mother smokes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Revenge of a Not-So-Pretty Girl is a coming-of-age novel about an African-American teen in 1980s Brooklyn who is physically and emotionally abused by her mother. Faye navigates a violent, uncaring world largely on her own, has very low self-esteem, and is envious and resentful of others. The novel reinforces the ideas that beauty is the only benchmark of good and that ugly people are undeserving, and it includes many disparaging, negative descriptions of overweight people. Teens with fragile self-images may need help understanding these pervasive viewpoints and balancing them against their own positive traits. There's some deep kissing and some violence: Faye, her friends, and her mother all engage in hitting and punching, and Faye's mother beats her with an extension cord. And in a pivotal incident a woman is knocked unconscious and abandoned. The only strong language is "s--t" and "hell."

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What's the story?

Growing up in Brooklyn in the '80s, abused high school freshman Faye eventually befriends an elderly mugging victim she thought she might have killed. As the friendship develops, Faye is able to move away from the negative influences and problems in her life toward the positive by making better choices and controlling her behavior.

Is it any good?

Faye's hard life is powerfully conveyed. There are enlightening, age-appropriate explanations of how exactly low self-esteem can lead to promiscuous behavior and how stealing and violence can be about trying to gain power in society instead of about needing money.

Over the course of REVENGE OF A NOT-SO-PRETTY GIRL, Faye matures to a remarkable degree, and it appears to she's going to be much better off than we could have expected. But she thoroughly buys into the beauty myth that girls have to be good-looking to succeed, and nothing in the book suggests she may be wrong about that. No alternative ways women might have value to society are offered, and the point is driven home when Faye finally begins to feel better about herself after a boy tells her he thinks she's pretty.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about "the beauty myth" that girls have to be considered pretty to be happy and successful. How does the cover picture of the girl together with the title make you feel about your own looks?

  • Faye acts out against girls she thinks are richer and prettier than she is. Why not the boys, too? Why wouldn't they deserve the same treatment?

  • Faye thinks she'd be a lot better off if she were more attractive. Are there other ways she might feel valuable and worthy of good things, both to herself and others?

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