Sarah's Stars

Cynthia Kadohata. Outside Beauty
Atheneum $19.99  ISBN 978-0-689-86575-6  272 pg.
Reviewed by Lindsey, Age 14

I ran back to my bedroom. "Mom's been in an accident. We have to go!" I shouted. Nobody woke up. I felt a little like I was watching myself stand in the middle of the bedroom. For a moment I doubted I'd heard Mack right. Everything seemed so peaceful. Marilyn was snoring in short snorts. I turned on the lights and shouted, "Get up!"

Lakey leaped out of bed as if she'd practiced this a million times. Maddie just stared. Marilyn, who never woke up quickly, said, "Huh?"

"Mack called. He said Mom's been in an accident."

Shelby and her three sisters live with their crazy mom as one happy family even though they all have different fathers. Maddie, the youngest, is the daughter of the stern and nasty Mr. Bronson, Mack is father to the oldest sister, Marilyn, and Shelby is stuck with plain old Jiro, a Japanese man who thrives in the countryside with his gum business. Lakey, the lucky one, has Larry, the kind and handsome man all the others wish they were related to. And even though the four girls hardly ever see their fathers, their makeshift family is probably even more cohesive than most normal families. But when their mom is in a car accident and must stay in the hospital for an extended period of time, the four sisters are split apart to live with their respective fathers. Lonely and afraid without each other the sisters all send letters to each other. Shelby and Maddie have a special bond between the two of them but soon Maddie's letters start sounding very strange and Mr. Bronson won't let her see her siblings anymore. Will Shelby be able to pull her family back together again before Maddie is changed forever?

Outside Beauty may not seem like the most important novel of all time but it certainly packs a punch. Its simple, flowing language engages younger readers but the many underlying themes will provide a challenge for older readers as well. In fact, the book tackles many different issues, such as pressuring parents, families, accepting differences and loving unconditionally. All the characters are many-faceted. Even Mr. Bronson, as misguided as he may be, loves his daughter immensely. And even though the girls' darling mother is not the best example of chastity, she is smart and strong and funny and her daughters simply idolize her. While the story may drag at times it is fraught with emotional turmoil, funny insights and many, many discoveries about life, love and sisters.

I give Cynthia Kadohata's Outside Beauty three and one half stars.

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