Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Outside Beauty by Cynthia Kadohata

Outside Beauty by Cynthia Kadohata is a book about the love of an unconventional family.

Helen Kimura has four daughters with four different men. Her daughters, like the various men in her life, are in awe of her beauty, and Helen uses that beauty to get whatever she wants out of men. She gives lessons on beauty to her daughters, but awkward Shelby despairs of ever being a beauty like her mother or her sister Marilyn.

When their mother is in a horrible car accident, Shelby and her sisters face two unthinkable circumstances; the loss of their mother's beauty to facial scarring, and their separation while she recovers in the hospital. Beautiful Marilyn is sent across town to her father, Mack. Brainy Lakey is sent to California to stay with her father Larry, the only man her mother ever really loved. Shelby and Maddie, the youngest child and family darling, are sent to Arkansas. For the first time, Shelby has the opportunity to get to know her father, Jiro. Her happiness with Jiro is dimmed when her letters from Maddie turn strange, appearing almost robotic. Realizing that Maddie's father, Mr. Bronson, is stifling her personality, and likely verbally abusing her, Shelby and her sisters take extreme action to get Maddie back.

The characterization in this story is extraordinarily well done. While Helen is exactly the type of woman we all hated in high school, her daughters are warm and loving, and they are able to learn that there is more to a person than outward appearance. The four fathers, likewise, are extremely well written, their personalities and motivations immediately evident.

This book is touching and well written, and I would recommend it to anyone who has ever had a sister.

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