Thursday, January 15, 2009

Review: Looks by Madeleine George

This is a slim book, but it's not a fast read because of it's length: it's a fast read because of the engrossing and unique tale Madeleine George spins about two girls and their struggles with their bodies, making friends and, of course, high school.

Meghan Ball is the fat girl - at least, that's what poet Aimee Zorn dubs her before she learns Meghan's name. Meghan has perfected the art of invisibility - she's so large that people treat her as if she were part of the scenery, or perhaps mentally disabled, and will say things around her they would never say if anyone else were listening.

At first there's only one exception to her powers of invisibility: the school's jock hero J-Bar has made it his personal mission to harass Meghan as much as possible - so long as he thinks the only witnesses are his jock friends.

The second exception is new student Aimee Zorn, who is as thin as Meghan is fat. Meghan sees a kindred spirit in Aimee, as if their polar opposite physiques could make them an unstoppable team. Years of perfecting invisibility, however, seem to have robbed Meghan of her ability to speak to the enigmatic new girl, so all Aimee sees is the fat girl - someone worthy of pity thanks to the merciless teasing from J-Bar Aimee witnessed.

Aimee joins the literary magazine and becomes fast friends with the editor, Cara, while Meghan lurks in the shadows of Aimee's life, first desperate to befriend her, then desperate to warn her away from Cara. When Aimee doesn't heed Meghan's warning, she realizes that she needs the fat girl's help - and an unstoppable team is born.

Surrounding Aimee's and Meghan's story is a colorful cast of characters, from Aimee's slacker ex-almost-step-father, to Mr. Handsley, the advisor for the literary magazine, passionate fan of the Caesar (as in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar) and enemy of jocks everywhere, to the incredibly obtuse Ms. Champoux (like the hair soap) who is probably the worst morning announcement reader ever.

Now, I'm not a fan of poetry, but generally I loved the poems that are scattered throughout this book. There are some great contrasts in poetic styles, from the cliche'd bit of high school poetry about birds first submitted to the literary magazine by one of Cara's simpering devotees to the rough, raw and ragged poetry that Aimee digs out from her weak little frame. They're great poems (or not so great poems used for great contrasting effect) and are used in just the right amount to keep from overwhelming the prose.

I also loved how Aimee's anorexia was treated, for Aimee is never actually diagnosed with anorexia through the entire book - she merely has allergies. To everything. So she doesn't eat. Lots of YA books have been written about girls with anorexia, but for such a complex disorder so many books reduce it down to one cause with one pattern of behaviors.

And finally, Mr. Handsley may be my favorite fictional teacher ever. Sure, I knew I was going to like him when he was so passionate about Julius Caesar (not my favorite Shakespeare play by a long shot, but it's more fun than Romeo & Juliet), but then he kicked a kid out of class for calling another kid a faggot and I just about cheered. I would have liked a lot more of my high school teachers if they'd had the guts to do that!

This is a great book about standing out from the crowd, and how living one's life as if one were invisible isn't actually a life at all.
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