I don’t review a lot of books on this blog, and the reason for that is mostly because I don’t want to feel obligated to write up reviews for everything I read. Reading is fun, but sometimes writing reviews still feels a bit like doing book reports for school. Also, many of the books I would want to dissect end up being really ancient Victorian literature. If you found my blog because you’re into YA and contemporary fiction, that’s probably not what you’re hear for.
BUT HARK! A Young Adult Book Review!
I had the pleasure of meeting Lucy Silag at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference and picked up her book, Beautiful Americans in March. Despite all the things I had on my agenda, it was a really quick read I managed to find time for. The first of a triology, Beautiful Americans is narrated by four American high schoolers, all studying abroad in Paris with the same foreign exchange student program. While they, and all their classmates, have radically different characters, the one thing everyone seems to have in common is their knack for cultivating secrets and finding trouble.
Silag has a very authentic YA voice and captures not only the dialogue but structure of teenage conversations in a way that lends a truthfulness to her style. The events and catastrophes (sometimes even the personalities…) teeter on the edge of being over-the-top, giving it that whimsical, larger-than-life feeling that always seems to accompany adolescence. It’s definitely a contemporary romance, but because there are so many characters packed together in such an exciting city, there’s a healthy does of intrigue and adventure that steadily ramps up throughout the story.
The best thing about books that give you a whole smattering of characters is that you then get to pick out which one you relate to, which one you wish you were, and which one you think is a total heartthrob! (I find it infinitely amusing that Lucy Silag and I both determined ‘Jay’ was a fantastic name for a high school hunkmuffin)
I related to the protagonists Olivia and PJ in turns. Olivia’s drive to become a dancer spoke to me and the way I felt about writing when I was a teenager, as well as her desire to secure the future…academically, artistically, and romantically. PJ’s nervousness and anxiety struck a chord with me, even though I never had anything as grandiose to be a mental wreck about. Plus, I give bonus points to any character in a story who can’t be bothered with makeup.
I have to admit, the fashionista only-child, Alex, was a bit of a Gatsby character for me. I went through the whole novel looking at the wealth she was born into, the opportunities she had, the liberties she could take, the way that she looked…and all I could think was “If only I had what she had…I wouldn’t screw it up.” It’s interesting to read through a portrait of a spoiled human being, simultaneously repulsed by her moral depravity and allured by her lifestyle. The fourth protagonist, Zach, caught my attention mainly because of how he was sucked into such a close friendship with Alex. I don’t think I ever was an Alex, but I definitely tried to survive friendships with a few girls like her in high school.
On the whole, I think that this would be a fun, light read for anyone who likes contemporary teen fiction. It was published a few years back, so this is probably old news, but the upside to reading a book that’s been this long out is that the sequels are all out too! Now all I have to do is find time to lose myself in all the hijinks good-looking American kids can get into in Paris…
Link to Amazon Page: http://www.amazon.com/Beautiful-Americans-Lucy-Silag/dp/B005Q7K1QA