Review: Positively Beautiful by Wendy Mills

Positively BeautifulPositively Beautiful by
Published by: Bloomsbury USA Childrens on
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult
Pages: 368
Source: ARC From Publisher
Goodreads
Rating: 3/5

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:

Enjoyment graph for Positively Beautiful

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 »

Once that era of bad decisions was over, I started enjoying the book more again. I really loved View 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 »

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!

The Verdict

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7 comments

  1. When I read the synopsis I thought it seemed like an awful lot was going on in that book! I completely agree – stupid decisions make me strongly dislike characters. For me, I think the subject hits too close to home (my family have faced breast cancer far too often), but because there is so much going on, it sounds like this major issue is almost trivialised… I’m not sure how well I’d cope with it, to be honest!
    Beth x

    1. I’m sorry that your family has had to deal with breast cancer. 🙁 This is definitely an emotional book, so I’m not sure if it would be good or bad for you to get into it, you know?

      I understand why the MC made some stupid decisions, but it was still hard for me to accept since they were just soooo stupid. At least she learned from them (I hope 😛 ).

  2. Thanks for your review Ashley! I think I am going to give this one a shot now that you’ve mentioned it. Breast cancer runs in my family as well, and I’m curious to see how the author handles that. For those who question the author’s choice to use a teenage girl who is worried about breast cancer, I wholeheartedly support her. I myself was told it would be a good idea to start getting biannual mammograms starting at the age of 18. The chances of someone who has had more than one woman in their family with breast cancer developing the disease are significantly higher. I have always wondered why this isn’t discussed more in literature. It seems like people tend to view it as a disease for women who are in their 40s, 50s, and beyond, yet there are women who are younger than 30 who have died from it.

    1. I loved that the author tackled this. If cancer runs in someone’s family (and has an early onset, like 20s or 30s) then I think it’s nuts to tell a teenager “don’t worry about it” or “don’t think about it”. OBVIOUSLY they’re going to think about it.

      I thought the struggles in this book felt very real, and I loved that the author tackled a subject that a lot of people seem to want to avoid.

      I hope you like the book, Sarah! 🙂

  3. Your review came at a great time for me. I have an ARC of this book and have been debating whether to read it. I figured it would a major tear fest, but to hear that it has several frustrating points too, I’m not sure I want to bother with it. It just sounds so ultimately unfulfilling.

    Sarah recently posted: Review: Hunter’s Trail

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