Cassie’s a smart girl. Normal, average, invisible. But with one hastily uttered sentence all that is about to change. The move from her small island community to a Seattle suburb allows Cassie to make the changes she needs to feel Beautiful. Drugs, sex, parties and all the right friends combine to make Cassie the most popular seventh grader at her new school.
But it’s a fine line to walk between doing what it takes to stay on top and doing what it takes to save a friend. The choice Cassie makes will haunt her forever.
Amy Reed’s prose is spare and exquisitely presented. We are given Cassie, no holds barred, no apologies, and asked to watch her downward spiral knowing there is nothing we can do to save her. We empathize with her angst and uncertainty and developing self-esteem even though she would tell us to F-off if she knew how much we wanted her to pick herself up and do the right thing.
The words on the page are, at times, unbearably stark, but even then there are moments when I wanted to sit back and breathe in the phrases: Reed’s description of Sarah, when Cassie’s with Ethan.
Reed brings the reader into Cassie’s world with gritty writing and grittier characters; characters we’re sure we’ve seen in our own experience. It’s hard to not feel the anxiety, the fear, the frustration that Cassie feels as she navigates her new world of beauty. It’s hard to not relate as Cassie weighs the costs vs. benefits of certain relationships. And it’s hard to stand by and watch her gloss over the hard decisions.
I feel the ending of the novel may have been wrapped up too quickly, too tidily and I wonder still at the role Cassie’s uncle plays in the story. He makes a significant impact on her, and her reactions to him stand-out from the rest of the story, as though something deeper exists between them. And yet he is brought in so late in the story and given little explanation and development.
Despite those minor misgivings, I found the story to be thoughtful, powerful and edgy (no matter how you define “edgy”). Beautiful is a wonderful debut and a worthy addition to the tallest of to-be-read piles.
Star rating: ****