Guest Post: Book Review: Everything Beautiful
Karen Healey is an able-bodied author of young adult literature and a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne. You can read more of her musings on reading, baking, and social justice at her blog, Attention Rebellious Jezebels.
Everything Beautiful, Simmone Howell. Pan.
I am the maniac behind the wheel of a stolen dune buggy. Dylan Luck is at my side. We are tearing up the desert, searching for proof of God.
Riley Rose’s mother died two years ago, when she was fourteen, and everything went to hell. Now her father and her new stepmother have sent her to a week-long camp at Sprit Ranch, AKA the Palace of Suckdom.
I decided I would pack only frivolous things: eyelash curlers and costume jewellery and little jars of antipasto. If I had to go to Christian camp then I would go as a plague. I would be more like Chloe: outrageous and obnoxious — call me a plus-size glass of sin! It wasn’t until Melbourne was wavering behind us like a bad watercolour that reality hit. As the kilometres ticked I sank into my seat and practiced holding my breath. On a silo just past Horsham someone had painted an escape button. ESC – ten feet high against a concrete sky. I almost asked Dad to stop the car so I could press it.
There, she meets Dylan, who used to be a bullying jackass before the accident that cost the use of his legs. Now he’s just sort of a jackass, and his old Bible Camp friends don’t seem to know how to act around him in the chair.
Craig came forward. “Here you go, dude.” He clamped a hand on Dylan’s shoulder and handed him a shiny bundle. Dylan was slow to unfold it, too slow for Craig, who moved across and shook it out, and held it up for display. It was a vest identical to his. Craig draped it over Dylan’s shoulders and announced: “So this year there’s two Youth Leaders!” … I whistled and threw my lavender sprigs at the stage. A flower landed on Dylan’s chest. He watched it fall to his lap and then he picked it up. I noticed his cross then: thick and silver, hanging on a thin leather string. As he held the sprig of lavender, his face changed and I had a sudden flash that he looked on the outside how I felt on the inside: Lost. Moody. Superior. Charged.
Dylan smelled the flower and stared straight at me. Then he put it in his mouth and ate it.
HIJINKS ENSUE. Hijinks include [minor spoilers!] (skip)
Daring Escapes, Heartfelt Confessions, makeovers, loveable doped-up friends, the theft of a shroud, Mean (Christian) Girls who turn out to be real girls, and one of the sweetest, hottest, most beautiful love scenes I’ve read anywhere
I LOVE this book. I love that the two main characters have bodies deemed unacceptable by Western standards – Dylan because he’s a wheelchair user, Riley because she’s fat – and yet are developed as a romantic and sexy pair. I love that Dylan is not a Ministering Angel Who Inspires Us All, but a complex person who’s a moody jerk a lot of the time, but charming and wickedly entertaining a lot of the rest. Howell manages to pack a good deal of wheelchair etiquette and disability awareness into the narrative, but not preachily; mostly it comes as Dylan sarcastically noting something that Riley’s never had to consider before.
In fact, every person in this book, however quickly drawn, comes across as a portrait, not a caricature. Characterisation is Howell’s great strength. No! It’s dialogue. No! It’s humour. No! It’s pace.
Wait, maybe it’s description:
The sun dipped. The sky became the near-night blue of shadows and stolen moments. Now the ground was firmer. The land had flattened out and Dylan’s tracks were no longer visible. Here and there, I found little reflecting pools, and then at last I saw one great big one. The lake was a giant mirror reflecting a crazy-paving of tree and sky. Up ahead I saw a monster gum tree with wandering roots that looked like they’d waded right into the water and thought, fuck it, let’s stop here. Dylan must have thought the same thing. He was in his chair, facing the water, a little way back from the edge.
Everything Beautiful is. Highly recommended. I don’t know where it’s available outside Australia, but the Book Depository has it here, although I have Thoughts on that particular cover.