Book Review: Gorgeous by Paul Rudnick
So I got home from the library last night and there was this mysterious package on my doorstep. Little did I know that it was a subversive gift from a book fairy with a twisted sense of humor. Imagine if you will Mephistopheles trying to deal with current pop culture trends and obsessions – that’s what we have here.
Synopsis: When Becky’s mom dies, she finds a note telling her that magic is going to happen and she should say yes. She then finds herself being wooed by one of the most famous designers of all time with a simple promise: he will make her three dresses that will transform her into the most beautiful woman in the world. What small town girl from the trailer park could turn an offer like this down? But what does it cost to be the most beautiful woman in the world?
This book is both absurd, and absurdly awesome. I hadn’t heard of it so I opened it to read the first few pages to see what it was like and just never really put it down. I liked our main character Becky from the get go and her home life brought back fond memories of watching What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. Then Becky finds the note telling her that magic was going to happen and she should say yes . . . Well, Becky definitely deserved a little bit of magic.
Rudnick takes everything that we lament about today’s culture – out obsession with fame and fortune and product labels – and just throws it in our face in a way that both embraces it and mocks it. When Becky – who is now the fabulously beautiful Rebecca – hops on the back of superstar Jate’s motorcycle (think 90s Justin Timberlake or today’s Justin Beiber) and rides of into the sunset with the one boy she read about in the tabloids that could make her knees quiver, you can immediately think of who your Jate would be. And like most superstars, Jate has a few secrets of his own.
Gorgeous is a tour-de-force romp through a mash-up world of twisted fairytale (seriously – there is a prince) and deep moral lessons that reminds us that it is important to be honest with yourself and bold in how you live your life. Just when the absurdity comes to a tipping point, a character utters some truth about fame or beauty or life to bring the reader back to the real world; it’s like Rudnick is sending his story afloat on the absurdity balloon and seeing how far he can take it (there are little people making shoes! ala the Elves and the Cobbler) and then he yanks that balloon string back in and reminds us all that true beauty is more than skin deep.
Gorgeous is a deliciously absurd romp through the mind of a pop-culture obsessed teen trying to get out of a small town life with the help of three magical dresses. Everything about this book could scream shallow and superficial and overly focused on outward appearances, but in the end it turns out to be anything but – it really is a testament to be one self and embrace your inner beauty. This book is not for everyone and in many ways it is seriously a hot mess, but if you look at it as a kind of twisted fairy tale and just hang on for the wild ride, you may enjoy it as the absurd – and often humorous – hot mess that it is. I hope people don’t consider it blasphemy, but in many ways this reminds me of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (which I love) and its wild ride through absurdity – but with a really important message to readers. (And I am not saying that all books have to have an important message, it just happens to be that this one does and gets to it in a really fun way.)
3.5 out of 5 stars. This book is understandably getting very mixed reviews on Goodreads and received a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly. Put this in the hands of Meg Cabot fans (not coincidentally, she blurbs the book). It is not the type of book I would usually pick up, but I was surprised by how funny it was and how much ended up liking it. Published by Cartwheel Books, a division of Scholastic, in April of 2013. ISBN: 9780545464260
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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