Skip to main content

Outside Beauty

Review

Outside Beauty

Thirteen-year-old Shelby has the line memorized: "My mother had four daughters by four different men." She and sisters Marilyn, Lakey and Maddie all define themselves that way, but it's not a source of embarrassment --- it's a power source and a source of pride. The four girls, all at least half-Japanese, adore their mother, Helen. All five need only each other, and they make the most wonderful team.

It's 1983, and Helen's latest boyfriend is angry at her. So Helen packs up Shelby and her siblings, and takes them to California to visit Lakey's father, Larry. Shelby is sure that Larry is the only father who Helen has ever really loved. After a blissful time in California, it's back to Chicago and a new man for Helen.

Other people may not understand Shelby and her sisters, but they get each other. They have set opinions on each father, they each have a job in the car when they’re on road trips, and each older sibling is responsible for a younger one --- Marilyn for Lakey, Shelby for Maddie. Their mother dotes on each of them and gives them the best advice she can on men and beauty.

The girls are at a loss when Marilyn's father calls to say that Helen has been in a car accident. Suddenly they are sent across the country to stay with their fathers while their mother remains in the hospital, very ill. Marilyn is lucky enough to have a father who lives in Chicago, and she visits Helen in the hospital and then writes chain letters to her sisters. Shelby and her favorite youngest sister, Maddie, both end up in Arkansas. Shelby's father Jiro is nice, if shy, and she begins to feel guilty about spending her summer with him; aside from missing her mother and sisters, she isn't all that unhappy there. Maddie, on the other hand, has a terrifying father who begins to try to control her.

Cynthia Kadohata's novel is a marvelously written story about family. It's also a great depiction of self-sufficient young people that teaches us that there's something wonderful about non-traditional families. Shelby and her sisters love each other so much, and they'll do anything to keep their family together.

OUTSIDE BEAUTY reminds me a bit of Sharon Creech's novels, which also deal with family and unusual adventures that cross borders, whether they are state borders, comfort borders or familial borders. It finds a unique way to deal with serious issues, such as running away and bad parenting. Most importantly, it shows how much kids know about their own situations, and how they can be counted on to deal with what they are given, as well as how parents can help.

This book will appeal to fans of adventure tales, readers who enjoy stories about family, and teens who like the idea of empowering themselves. The ending manages to be happy without appearing sappy, and Shelby and her sisters remain the same as always --- a somewhat strange family that nonetheless manages to be close-knit and functional.

Reviewed by Sarah Hannah Gomez on June 3, 2008

Outside Beauty
by Cynthia Kadohata

  • Publication Date: December 22, 2009
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 1416998187
  • ISBN-13: 9781416998181