Friday, April 8, 2011

Beautiful

Beautiful by Amy Reed is the most "edgy" YA book I have ever read.

I usually avoid teen books with explicit sex or drug use because I find many authors don't get it right. Amy Reed gets it right. As I followed thirteen year-old Cassie through her sexual encounters and her drug use ( she could go toe to toe with Jim Morrison any day), I was emotionally engaged in Cassie's bleak life. There is nothing gratuituous about any scene. Her actions spring from great characterization. The book is a page turner, reads like a thriller.

Cassie is smart and beautiful. She also, like many teens, struggles with self doubt, is adjusting to a new grown-up body and the attention it brings, and wants to fit in. But in addition, she has moved and attends a new school. Her parents are essentially absent. Cassie's actions reveal her emotional life.  Cassie has sex with boys simply to fit in. Her use of alcohol, cocaine and amphetamines calm her anxiety, fill the emptiness. I wouldn't worry that a teen reading this book might envy Cassie and want to emulate like her. Still, this is a book for teen fourteen or older.

Beautiful can be seen as a novel about depression. It is also about  teen suicide. Suicide happens to be the third cause of death among 15-24 year olds and the sixth cause among those 5-14.

Cassie's only close friend, Sarah, kills herself in the climax of this story. Sarah's father had sexually abused her.  Sarah has just moved and lives with her mother, an alcoholic, who spends her days unconscious. Her step sister is a bully. She has essentially no adult to protect her. When she hears her father is getting out of prison, she gets scared and takes a lethal overdose.

Teens normally are under stress, have self doubt, pressure to succeed, financial worries and other fears. With added stress from divorce, step-relationships and moving, depression can occur and suicide might appear to be the only solution.

It's important for parents and teachers to know that  depression can be effectively treated. It's important to ask about suicidal thoughts. Beautiful shows us what can happen to kids when adults aren't watching and don't care.

In the end, Cassie moves again with her parents and starts over, making better choices. Perhaps the ending seemed too easy, abrupt for some. But I didn't mind. The hopeful ending was a relief. The story reminded me that not all kids who make bad choices are bad kids and that some kids learn and change if given the chance.

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