edited by Ann Angel
Amulet Books, May 2007
(ARC copy – quotes may differ from final published version)
I really like short stories. But short story collections based around a theme, especially in books aimed at young adults, can be really hard to pull off. They can seem gimmicky and didactic, kind of “here’s what some out-of-touch executive type thinks teens want to read about.” I was wary of this particular title, Such a Pretty Face: Short Stories about Beauty, for just those reasons. I worried that it might be a series of tales about self-conscious “typical teens” overly preoccupied with their weight/skin/hair/shoe size/etc. I’m pleased to report that this was not the case. This collection really does work, thanks to the incredible assemblage of talented authors and the editorial stylings of Ann Angel*.
The stories all feature teenage protagonists and explore different facets of the concept of beauty. There’s a lot of variety in tone and style, ranging from poignant (“Red Rover, Red Rover” by Chris Lynch, about a hospitalized boy who’s in love with a nurse he’s never actually seen), empowering (“What I Look Like” by Jamie Pittel**, in which a girl experiments with her appearance as she establishes her own distinct identity), romantic (“Bella in Five Acts” by Tim Wynne-Jones, about an undersized boy and a beautiful, suicidal girl), and wacky (“Bad Hair Day” by Lauren Myracle, in which a homecoming queen is beset by a supernatural chin hair).
One of the more bittersweet offerings is “Bingo” by Anita Riggio, about a depressed boy whose bubbly best friend tries to save him from himself:
Her chin went up. She sniffed the air, turned, and found a fat cluster of honeysuckle. She put her face to it. “Mmm. Just smell this, Roscoe.”
“I can smell it from here.”
Maeve pulled a slim gold trumpet of a bloom from the vine. “You can actually taste the honey, you know.” She held it out to me.
“No thanks. I’m trying to quit.”
“Ah, Roscoe,” she said. “You just don’t know what you’re missing.”
“Sure I do. You’re keeping a running tally.”
And I stood there with my hands in my pockets, watching Maeve take a hit off a honeysuckle blossom.
Other contributors are Ron Koertge, Mary Ann Rodman, Louise Hawes, J. James Keels, Ellen Wittlinger, Norma Fox Mazer, and Jacqueline Woodson. The stories are nicely arranged, with the fanciful balanced against the realistic, male protagonists alternating with female, and the lighter-toned stories complimenting the more somber ones. Most of the stories are strong, with fully-realized characters and believable dialogue. However, a couple (“My Crazy, Beautiful World” by Jacqueline Woodson and “How to Survive a Name” by Norma Fox Mazer”) feel incomplete – I suspect they’re small chunks of larger works-in-progress.
Ms. Angel has thought ahead to possible classroom uses for the collection, and has included a Reader’s Guide, with discussion questions, suggested writing and creative art activities, an interview with the editor, and bios of the contributors. It would certainly be a worthy addition to a classroom or high school library (caveat: sex is mentioned in a couple of stories, and there’s occasional strong language). With the variety of stories included here, there’s bound to be at least one or two that resonate with most readers. All in all, it’s a solid collection, with some highly original and thought-provoking treatments of the theme.
*Fun Fact: there’s also a porn actress named Ann Angel. Something to consider if you’re thinking of Googling or Technorati-ing her to find more info… Which is what I did, and then had to spend like an hour looking at The Daily Puppy just to detox. This Ann Angel’s website is http://www.annangelwriter.com/. And look, if you scroll down a bit here, there’s a little list of porn-free links all about this book.
**Full Disclosure: Jamie Pittel is a very good friend of mine. The usual disclaimer applies – I’m giving a positive review here because I liked the book, not because I like her, blah blah etc.
Radio interview with Ann Angel on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Lake Effect” – March 6, 2007 (scroll down to “Such a Pretty Face”).
“Author Interview: Ann Angel on Such a Pretty Face…” by Cynthia Letich Smith on Cynsations blog, August 29, 2007.
“One Writer’s Process: Ann Angel” article on Wordswimmer blog, May 5, 2007.
Review on Flamingnet.com.
Check out the other Under The Radar posts for Friday, August 31st:
Not Your Mother’s Bookclub: A look at some recently revised classics