I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Making Pretty by Corey Ann Haydu
Published by HarperCollins on May 12th 2015
Genres: Coming of Age, Contemporary, Family, Love & Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 368 •Format: ARC •Source: Publisher
Corey Ann Haydu's third novel is a raw, romantic coming-of-age story, perfect for fans of Gayle Forman and Jenny Han. Haydu has been called "a masterful wordsmith" by Kirkus Reviews.Montana and her sister, Arizona, are named after the mountainous states their mother left them for. But Montana is a New York City girl through and through, and as the city heats up, she's stepping into the most intense summer of her life. Her father is distracted by yet another divorce, and she's growing apart from her sister. Then she meets wild, bold Karissa, who encourages Montana to live in Technicolor and chase new experiences. But the more of her own secrets Karissa reveals, the more Montana has to wonder if Karissa's someone she can really trust.In the midst of her uncertainty, Montana finds a beautiful distraction in Bernardo. He's serious but spontaneous, and he looks at Montana in the way she wants to be seen. For the first time, Montana understands how you can become both lost and found in somebody else. But when that love becomes everything, where does it leave the rest of her imperfect life?
Making Pretty captivated me by throwing a curve ball at me within the first 70 or so pages that I could not ignore; a plot twist so disturbing that I had to keep reading the book even though there were several things about it that did not work for me. So instead of DNF-ing it, I plowed through 300+ pages of seventeen year old Montana’s narrative to find myself at the end of it feeling a lot of things, though “liking” this book is unfortunately not one of them. While Haydu crafts a story with intensely messy family dynamics and underlying themes that are unique, I was so turned off by the protagonist that it hindered my overall experience with the book.
Creating a dialogue about plastic surgery
The fact that that Montana, the protagonist, has a plastic surgeon as a father is what really made this book worth reading for me, as it opened up a subtle dialogue about plastic surgery (and other body modification) without completely taking a hard line for or against it. The premise for the family’s dysfunction lies with Montana’s father’s various marriages and relationships, which his daughters notice always end once he makes the woman flawlessly beautiful and there’s nothing left for him to “fix.” The girls have grown up with a distorted image of beauty and the uncomfortable knowledge that their father would gladly pay for them to fix their flaws, and even encourages them to do so at times. Montana thus often views plastic surgery as an evil thing designed to make women (and men) feel inferior, but she also dabbles in other forms of body modification throughout the novel (hair dye, piercings, tattoos) without fully realizing that she’s altering her appearance to impress others or to try to convey a certain persona to people, to make them see her the way she wants to be seen. Montana’s sister Arizona has a disdain for plastic surgery too, but still has a treatment done to alter a part of her appearance that she’s always felt insecure about. The novel really presents a lot of ways in which people alter their appearance and for different reasons, and shows both people disappointed and empowered by plastic surgery (though it does tend to lean more toward presenting such surgery as a negative). I think that this topic is a good one for YA because teenagers and young adults are definitely getting plastic surgery and are often stigmatized and shamed without a real discussion as to the causes for such body modification, especially in comparison to other forms.
This story deals in uncomfortable truths
Making Pretty deals with a lot of uncomfortable situations that most readers would be hard pressed to be able to answer decisively: What would you do if your parents offered you plastic surgery? What would you do if your parent started dating someone close to your own age? How do you distinguish between love and infatuation? Does wanting to look a certain way make you a lesser person? Haydu was really great at incorporating these messy dynamics into her story about a family falling apart at the seems, and how family drama can bleed out into friendships, relationships, and other areas of one’s life. One of my favorite “uncomfortable” aspects was Montana having to realize that some of the traits she disliked most about her father were ones she inherited and was practicing herself, because I think everyone swears in some way or another that they won’t be like their parents in some aspect when they’re a teenager.
Being a teenager is not always an excuse
What really irritated me about this book is that Montana was constantly making bad, irresponsible choices and I tired of reading about them. She caved to peer pressure about 95% of the time, whether it be smoking even though she didn’t like to because it made her look cool or consistently getting drunk every time she hung out with another teen or young adult (I can’t even count how many times this happened, at least once every 50 pages on average). Coupled with the fact that Montana almost never stood up for herself despite having to listen to her narrative about how much she disliked everything that was going on was infuriating by the end. Montana just continued to let herself fall into toxic relationships and let those relationships rule her actions (and usually choosing such relationships over her family). I feel like the story tries to account for such immaturity with the premise of Montana being young/in love/finding herself/coming of age/etc., but you can be a teenager and be responsible and not continually make bad choices.
I clashed with the writing style and pacing
The writing style was also fraught with phrases that just felt strange and awkward, such as “It was the opposite of a surprise.” when something was obvious. I think the narrative was trying to convey a certain style in which Montana thought, but it felt choppy and awkward to me. The pacing was often slow for me as well, and I almost DNF’d it around 50 pages until THE THING happened that I had to know more about. View Spoiler »Montana’s dad starts dating Montana’s new BFF who is like 25 years younger than him and I had to see how that disaster was going to pan out. « Hide Spoiler I didn’t even really feel like I got a satisfactory ending though, as nothing really felt “resolved” or “fixed” by the end. There was also a sort of underlying subplot of Montana needing to reconnect with all of her past mother-figures as she “finds herself” but readers don’t even get to see her eventual contact with her birth mother, which personally for me was a huge letdown.
Overall: This is the first novel I’ve read by Corey Ann Haydu and while it is based on a messy and controversial topic that creates an interesting dialogue on body modification, the characters really fell flat for me to the point of being downright irritating. Haydu excels at creating messy family dynamics and putting her characters in uncomfortable situations, but I personally didn’t see enough character growth or plot resolution for such aspects to be worthwhile.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- Goodreads Challenge