Ordinary Beauty by Laura Weiss, published June 2011 by MTV Books.
Read: May 2015
Genre: Young Adult/Contemporary/Issues
Get It Now: Wordery
Goodreads Synopsis: How can you make someone love you when they won’t? And what if that person happens to be your mother?
Sayre Bellavia grew up knowing she was a mistake: unplanned and unwanted. At five months shy of eighteen, she’s become an expert in loneliness, heartache, and neglect. Her whole life she’s been cursed, used, and left behind. Swallowed a thousand tears and ignored a thousand deliberate cruelties. Sayre’s stuck by her mother through hell, tried to help her, be near her, be important to her, even as her mother slipped away into a violent haze of addiction, destroying the only chance Sayre ever had for a real family.
Now her mother is lying in a hospital bed, near death, ravaged by her own destructive behaviour. And as Sayre fights her way to her mother’s bedside, she is terrified but determined to get the answer to a question no one should ever have to ask: Did my mother ever really love me? And what will Sayre do if the answer is yes?
I’d never heard of this book, so I went into it with zero expectations. I picked it up from The Works as part of the 6 for £10 fiction deal because the cover caught my eye, and the premise was intriguing. A book about mother issues? I’m in. The blurb doesn’t exactly hide the issues in this book – neglect, addiction, etc. But it was a lot darker than I was expecting. Occasionally, it was a bit much, but to be honest, overall the story dealt with pain very well. To say I shed a few tears would be an understatement.
Ordinary Beauty has a consistently dark and depressing storyline pretty much throughout the novel. The most depressing aspect of it, is that it’s incredibly REAL. It doesn’t feel overdone or hyperbolised, in fact it could be a true story on Oprah. The story is told through alternate chapters – one timeline is in Sayre’s present day when she’s trying to come to terms with her mother’s impending death, and one takes us through Sayre’s childhood up to the present day, so we are made fully aware of the extent of abuse and neglect she suffered. It truly is a jarring and haunting insight into the life of a child of an addict.
You might wonder how it’s possible to by gripped by such a story, and to somehow actually find yourself enjoying the read? Full credit to Weiss’ writing, she made this book impossible to put down – the pacing was perfect, the storyline very well thought out, and the plot was suspenseful. It also helps that Sayre wasn’t just a likeable character, she was lovable, which is the biggest irony really. There is the introduction of a romantic interest, which I initially eye-rolled at, but thankfully Weiss adds just enough of it to whet the appetite without turning this fantastic “issues” novel into another contemporary love-story.
At times, I really felt that I knew these characters. I felt Sayre’s desperate need for a better life, and her drive and ability to survive was nothing short of inspiring. I welled up a couple of times when reading this book, but especially at the end. Although I did feel that the ending was a little too peachy-perfect-with-a-cherry-on-top, it was pretty satisfying, and definitely made the (at times) difficult read worthwhile. I’ve heard Weiss has written other “issues” books, and I’m keen to check those out.
“Sometimes the hardest people to love, are the ones who need it most.”
“There are worse things in life to be than fat, and one of them is ignorant. Another is prejudiced. Another is deliberately cruel.”
“Never say God – and the Beatles – don’t have great timing.”
Have you read Ordinary Beauty? Or do you have any Weiss recommendations? Let me know in the comments!