Published by: Bloomsbury USA Childrens on March 3, 2015
Source: ARC From Publisher
16-year-old Erin is a smart if slightly dorky teenager, her life taken up with her best friend Trina, her major crush on smoky-eyed, unattainable Michael, and fending off Faith, the vision of perfection who’s somehow always had the knife in for Erin. Her dad, a pilot, died when she was very young, but Erin and her mom are just fine on their own.
Then everything changes forever one day after school when Erin’s mom announces she has breast cancer. And there’s even worse news to come. Horrified, Erin discovers that her grandmother’s death from cancer is almost certainly linked, the common denominator a rare gene mutation that makes cancer almost inevitable. And if two generations of women in the family had this mutation, what does that mean for Erin? The chances she’s inherited it are frighteningly high. Would it be better to know now and have major preemptive surgery or spend as much life as she has left in blissful ignorance?
As Erin grapples with her terrible dilemma, her life starts to spiral downwards, alleviated only by the flying lessons she starts taking with grumpy Stew and his little yellow plane, Tweetie Bird. Up in the sky, following in her dad’s footsteps, Erin finds freedom chasing the horizon. Down on the ground it’s a different story, and facing betrayal from Trina, humiliation from Faith, and a world of disappointment with Michael, Erin knows she must discover the truth about herself. Sure enough, she’s positive for the gene that’s slowly killing her mom.
Suddenly, Erin’s life has turned into a nightmare, and the only person she can truly talk to is a girl called Ashley who she meets online. But when, in a moment of madness, Erin flies away with Tweetie Pie to find her new friend, she finds herself on a journey that will take her through not only shock and despair—but ultimately to a new understanding of the true meaning of beauty, meaning, and love.
My thoughts for Positively Beautiful are all over the place. It’s extremely hard for me to pinpoint exactly how I feel! I think it’ll help to show you my enjoyment graph:
As you can see, I started out LOVING the book. I really connected with the main character, I felt for her, I loved the quirky best friend, and I was generally really interested. We learn about the breast cancer and that’s TOTALLY heartbreaking. We’re introduced to a potential love interest, and I can’t wait to see that develop. She starts taking flying lessons and that’s SUPER COOL.
Overall, I’m pretty darn hooked. This is looking to be a 4 or even 4.5 star read.
Then we get a tiny blip, which I’ve marked as #1 on the graph. This was when I noticed that the guy who I thought was going to be the love interest was… kind of weird. I mean, not just weird but maybe kind of an ass. I always thought maybe he was just misunderstood or brooding and we’d uncover his “true self” later.. but it turns out, he’s just… BLEH! He’s a moron wallowing in self pity and trying to justify a bully’s behaviour. THAT’S NOT COOL. And this was when I started to question where the book was going.
But I adjusted and kept moving forward. Until we hit #2. This was when I was just flat out frustrated.
Erin started making some REALLY STUPID decisions. This is a “spoiler” for about the 50% mark in the book. It’s actually mentioned at the end of the synopsis anyway, but I’ll let you decide if you want to read it or not.View Spoiler » [
Erin had been taking flying lessons and now she’s taking her “solo flight test”. This is where she flies in the plane completely alone. She’s just supposed to take off, do a few manoeuvres, then land. But once she’s up in the air, she doesn’t come back and land like she’s supposed to. She keeps flying. She basically hijacks her instructor’s plane. She flies for HOURS and then semi-crash lands in a field. I mean, it’s a decent landing, but she damages the plane in the process. So then the police are out looking for her, but she’s running away from them, and then she ends up spending DAYS “on the run” away from her worried sick mother. This was just the height of stupid decisions.
- She STOLE a plane.
- She DAMAGED the plane.
- She JEOPARDIZED her instructor’s entire flying career.
- She RAN AWAY from her mother, sick with breast cancer.
- She REFUSES to come home for several days.
In hindsight, I get it. I really do. She was just told that she has the genetic mutation that’ll give her an ~80% chance of getting cancer. Her mom already has breast cancer and she doesn’t know if she’ll make it. Her dad is dead and she can’t stand the thought of losing her mom as well. She and her best friend are having problems. The pressure is building. She can’t deal with it. I get it and that makes sense…
But she treated people LIKE CRAP! Her instructor, the plane he has to now fix, he almost got his license revoked, her mother was worried sick… Stupid, stupid, STUPID! I do appreciate that Erin eventually learned from this, but it was really hard for me to read this and think it was “okay”, you know? I just had my nose wrinkled in disgust the whole time. I was really disappointed at her and just kind of pissed. It did affect my enjoyment of the book at the time, and that sucks.
Once that era of bad decisions was over, I started enjoying the book more again. I really loved View Spoiler » [Jason and the part he played « Hide Spoiler] . And towards the end it got REALLY REALLY REALLY sad.
But then at #3, I was disappointed again. This is kind of a stupid thing really, but it just irked me. View Spoiler » [Jason told Erin that they couldn’t be in a romantic relationship. Erin said she wanted to be and couldn’t ignore that. So then Jason basically said, “We can’t hang out anymore until we can just be friends and nothing else.” So then they stop speaking.. for FIVE MONTHS!!! Until five months later, Jason finally shows up and says, “I’m sorry, I was wrong. I do love you, and I’ve been so stupid!” Normally I’d be okay with that… except that it took him FIVE MONTHS to realize that. I’d be kind of pissed if it took someone five months to realize they loved me. THAT’S A LONG ASS TIME! Take five days, not five months. « Hide Spoiler]
Positively Beautiful had too many subplots—I didn’t know what to focus on
I just feel like Positively Beautiful tried to cover too much ground. I think I understand what the author wanted to achieve with everything she included, but I think it ended up being a bit confusing since so much ground was covered. Erin had too many lessons she was supposed to learn in different areas, and those were each with different characters. It was hard for me to realize which characters were the ‘main’ or ‘important’ ones.
I think the #1 thing that should have been cut from the book was the whole subplot with Michael. That confused me because at first it was so front and center that I thought THAT was going to be the main focus of the book (or at least the main romance). Then it fizzled, and I was like, “Well what was that for?” It did tie together in the end, but I still feel like it was unnecessary. The book would have been a lot smoother if that wasn’t there to begin with.
It was a powerful book though!
But above all, I really loved how powerful the book was. In particular, I ADORED the author’s note! I loved her reasons for writing the book:
I found that some people in the BRCA community were uneasy with the subject matter of this book.
First, I was writing about a teenage girl, who I was told should not even be thinking about the breast cancer gene until she was at least eighteen, preferably twenty-one or twenty-five. How, I asked these well-meaning people, can you tell someone not to think about something?
Wendy Mills, Author’s Note
I think this was a fantastic question and I love that she tackled it. You can’t tell someone to not worry about something, especially when it can mean life or death. So what happens when a teenager is faced with this situation?
Despite its flaws, Positively Beautiful was a REALLY powerful book that raised some fantastic questions. And you’ll definitely need to keep the tissues close by when you get to the end!