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A Reader of Fictions: Review: Ordinary Beauty

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Monday, September 17, 2012

Review: Ordinary Beauty

Ordinary Beauty

Author: Laura Wiess
Pages: 290
Publisher: MTV Books
Source: Own

Description from Goodreads:
How can you make someone love you when they won’t?

And what if that person happens to be your mother?

Sayre Bellavia grew up knowing she was a mistake: unplanned and unwanted. At five months shy of eighteen, she’s become an expert in loneliness, heartache, and neglect. Her whole life she’s been cursed, used, and left behind. Swallowed a thousand tears and ignored a thousand deliberate cruelties. Sayre’s stuck by her mother through hell, tried to help her, be near her, be important to her even as her mother slipped away into a violent haze of addiction, destroying the only chance Sayre ever had for a real family.

Now her mother is lying in a hospital bed, near death, ravaged by her own destructive behavior. And as Sayre fights her way to her mother’s bedside, she is terrified but determined to get the answer to a question no one should ever have to ask: Did my mother ever really love me? And what will Sayre do if the answer is yes?

First Sentence: "Walking up Churn Road at one in the morning is not the worst part of my life right now, which, since the road is nothing more than a mile-long rutted, frozen, unlit dead-end dirt track through the woods, really ought to say something."

I really hadn't even heard of this one, but I have always wanted to be part of a book club, so when I learned about the Not So YA Book Club I had to be a part of it. This was their book for September, so I checked the library and they DIDN'T HAVE IT. Epic tragedy. So I checked Amazon and HURRAH! They had it for like 5 bucks. So I bought it and some other books, not expecting much, but deeming it worthwhile for the overall experience.

Turns out, though, that I really liked this. When I was a teen and up until a few months ago, I really shied away from 'issues books,' because they're depressing and who needs that from your escapist reads, right? Plus, I'm pretty sure I assumed they were all like Lurlene McDaniel or something, disgustingly sappy and unrealistic. After reading a couple though, I realized that I actually LOVE the incredibly heartrending contemps that make all of the people with souls cry, though I generally don't.

Ordinary Beauty is almost unrelentingly depressing. The overall tone is one of despair and desperation. Sayre Bellavia has had an awful, awful life, all because of the influence of her drug addict mother. Ordinary Beauty focuses on that relationship. Some other things happen and some other characters do matter, but what it really comes down to is Sayre and her mother.

Impregnated at 15, already a party girl and maker of bad decisions, Sayre's mother decided to have her baby, I think mostly because she only realized she was pregnant when it was too late to do anything about it. The news of Sayre's impending birth caused the grandfather to keel over for one reason or another, throwing the pampered daughter into a spiral and serious drug abuse from which she never recovered. The mother always resents Sayre for destroying her life, never shows any motherly tenderness, which Sayre can never stop craving. I wanted so badly to shake her and get her to freaking leave and go ANYWHERE.

Luckily, Sayre spent the first seven years of her life in a fairly stable environment, living with her grandmother and not her mom. This gave her a fairly normal outlook, and perhaps spared her from some of the worst emotional scars. However, most of the rest of her life has been a succession of dirty houses, abuse (mostly verbal) and neglect.

The story alternates between numbered chapters, the present timeline, in which Sayre's mother is dying from, well, basically her life, and titled chapters that are her reflections on the past inspired by the mom's impending death. Because it's not linear, we know that, even when times get better, that even worse things are ahead for Sayre, so there's some major dramatic irony going on. Also, even though I essentially knew what was coming, I really didn't guess how it would happen.

The whole group had some issues with the book, each of us struggling with Sayre's normalcy and with some of the situations in the book. One that we all doubted was that Sayre's mom would go to the hospital and receive Oxycontin, even though she'd been sent to rehab in the past for drug abuse. Even though I did look askance at a number of things like that, they didn't really subtract from the reading experience too much, because I got so caught up in Sayre's story.

The ending, though. The ending just felt so rushed and out of left field. The rest of the book was so sad and then all of a sudden there's a happy ending? What? Plus, there are some sort of dropped plot lines and some skipped time and it's just really unclear. Sayre just magically gets over everything so fast and this, I felt, was the most unrealistic part of the book, little inconsistencies aside. Much as I want Sayre to have a happy ending, it should not have been so idyllic, so untempered by her painful past.

Overall, I still really, really liked this, and now want to read all of Wiess's other books. I think everyone in the book club liked it, though most of them sobbed and don't want to read another sad book for like a year. I, however, want more of them. 

Rating: 4/5

Favorite Quote: "'There's a Longfellow quote I have stuck on my bulletin board at the church office—"There is no grief like the grief that does not speak"—and it's true. I've found that keeping pain inside doesn't give it a chance to heal, but bringing it out into the light, holding it right there in your hands and trusting that you're strong enough to make it through, not hating the pain, not loving it, just seeing it for what it really is can change how you go on from there. Time alone doesn't heal emotional wounds, Sayre, and you don't want to live the rest of your life bottled up with anger and guilt and bitterness. That's how people self-destruct.'"

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Blogger Kayla Beck said...

I can pretty much guarantee that I will never read this book, but you reviewed it really well. :-D

September 17, 2012 at 8:43 AM  
Blogger Kayla Beck said...

Oh, and I love the cover!

September 17, 2012 at 8:43 AM  
Blogger Blogger10 said...

Even the description is relentlessly depressing! But, it still sounds like something I would read. Thanks for the review!

September 17, 2012 at 9:57 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Haha, but you love contemporary novels!!!!! ;)

September 17, 2012 at 12:54 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

True that. You definitely should as it's quite good.

September 17, 2012 at 12:59 PM  
Blogger Kat said...

'Issues' books still scare me, but more that I'll be disappointed in them than anything - but this sounds interesting. Watch out wishlist, here we go again!

September 17, 2012 at 2:04 PM  
Blogger Meg @ write meg! said...

Eesh -- sounds very intense and heavy, though like it has its good points! Enjoyed your review!

September 17, 2012 at 3:12 PM  
Blogger Giselle said...

Bahaha we are so alike! I swear I never cry during movies or sad books. I thought I was just weird, but I think I just know it's not "real", even when the books are 5-star "this was awesome the characters were SO REALISTIC" types. Anyways. We are soulless, no surprise there. This sounds really good, though, I love books that are told from past and present perspectives like this, and 5$ is quite a deal (To Canadians, Amazon shipping is 6.50$ so 5$ never happens O_O)

September 17, 2012 at 11:35 PM  
Blogger Jenni said...

I am so into the gritty, heartfelt comtemps lately. I've realised that I can connect with them a lot more than I do with any other genre. And I think I might like to cry... I like something that draws emotion out of my and leaves me feeling like I've been punched in the gut. NEED THIS BOOK! Awesome Awesome Awesome review Christina!

September 18, 2012 at 12:38 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Ooooh, that's true. They can be disappointing. Or, if they're overly depressing, they sometimes cross over into being unintentionally comedic.

September 18, 2012 at 8:00 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

It sure does have good points. Even though it's not perfect, I'm so glad I read it and will likely reread someday!

September 18, 2012 at 8:01 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

So glad I'm not the only one that doesn't weep openly. I'm actually much more likely to cry at happy scenes for no reason at all. I suspect it means something weird is happening with my hormones behind the scenes. Stupid hormones!

Hmm, do Canadians have some sort of version of Amazon Prime where they could get free shipping?

September 18, 2012 at 8:13 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Yay! I love these too, even if I don't cry. I didn't used to want to read them, because I thought they would depress me. Actually, I think they sort of do the opposite, because I'm like 'see, I'm doing okay!' Also, makes you reevaluate your issues and deem them maybe not so huge.

September 18, 2012 at 8:14 AM  

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