Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Everything Beautiful / Simmone Howell

Summary - Riley Rose, atheist and bad girl, has been tricked into attending Spirit Ranch, a Christian camp. There she meets Dylan Kier, alumni camper and recent paraplegic, who arrives with a chip on his shoulder and a determination to perfect all of his bad habits. United in their personal suffering and in their irritation at their fellow campers, they turn the camp inside out as they question the meaning of belief systems, test their faith in each other, and ultimately settle a debate of the heart.

Review - Two words scared me - Christian Camp. Two reasons why - 1) caricutures and cliches were almost inevitable and 2) I don't like being preached to.

Thankfully, this didn't occur as I was spared a 7th Heaven : The Novel experience. However I did find myself strangley resistant to the novel for the first few chapters, having started it once weeks ago and stopping a few pages in. I think the character of Riley's prickliness + the Christian Camp factor scared me off. Having finished today, I found myself having read a humorous novel detailing what can happen in seven days if you give people a chance.

There are plenty of jokes at the expense of religion so if you are sensitive about those kinds of things (and some swearing) I think you might steer clear of this title. Not that any of it is mean spirited, it's just taking advantage of the plethora of stereotypes out in the world. If you look beneath the surface though, those cliched individuals do have dimensions that unfurl slowly and carefully. I personally loved Sarita - the phrase muddling, formal speaking, Indian Presbyterian. She is an absolute delight and every word that Howell writes for her is perfection.

Riley is the traditional bad girl protagonist - she swears, she smokes, she tumbles and she hides the fact that she loves reading. We've all met this character before, her mother has died and she's journeyed on a path of self-destruction to mask her inner pain. However, in this case, Riley is a big girl. Yes, she's fat, chooses to wear copious amount of black and has violet, asymmetrical hair. She screams headcase. Yet it's her interactions with the various members of the camp and the recently paralysed, fellow sceptic Dylan that opens her eyes and brings some much needed emotional processing. There is no miraculous turn around here, the end is somewhat ambiguous and I liked the novel all the more for it. (I also want a Church girl Fresh button).

Howell perfectly described a landscape I was very familiar with (country teaching placement) and made it sound both isolating and beautiful. The dialogue is crackling with cynacism and healthy doses of humour and I can see teens really enjoying this book. As involved as I was in the events of this novel, I found myself continually wondering if I would have prefered reading this journey from Dylan's perspective. Honestly, I think I might have. That being said, I would definitely pick up a copy and delight in the adventure of a fat girl and a cripple (their words, not mine.)

Published: October 28 2008
Format: Paperback , 304 pages
Publisher: PacMacmillan Australia
Origin: AUST.
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Simmone Howell's Website
livejournal blog
homepage for Everything Beautiful
Simmone's self-crafted novel trailer:

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