Replica Review

I feel like the only books I’ve read lately are good books. The only reviews I’ve been leaving are either 4 out of 5 or even 5 out of 5 stars. Does this make me a bad reviewer? I’m too lenient? Perhaps. Or it just means that there are so many good books out there that deserve that 5 out of 5 stars on a nobody’s blog.

Replica is, obviously, not going to break this streak.

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Replica by Lauren Oliver
Published by Harper Collins on October 4th 2016
Genres: Science Fiction, Suspense, Friendship, Romance, Family, Coming-of-Age, Heartbreak
Pages: 544 (total); 284 (Gemma); 236 (Lyra)
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Nobles

Final Review: 5 out of 5 ★★★★★


It has been quite a long time since I have read a book so original (at least to me), so overwhelmingly new, that I had a hard to grasping it (note that the other recent book that made me feel like this would have to be A Court of Thorns and Roses). And I mean this literally, the book, being flipped in my hands every chapter to read from a new perspective is so refreshing and it gives my fingers a workout.

The storyline and characters are not the only unique quality of this book. Creative-genius Lauren Oliver doesn’t simply write this story, but instead puts a piece of art work in our hands. For once, the actual book is part of the story. Almost like a children’s choose-your-own-adventure, Replica is split down the middle; one half consisting of the tale told through normal girl Gemma’s eyes, the other half is the same story, just told through the Replica, Lyra’s, eyes. The reader can decide if they want to read one half and then the other, or, how I read it, they can flip the book over after every chapter, going through each scene with both girls.

Now I will admit that while I find this groundbreaking, it can be tedious. The storyline is just so good that the physical act of closing the book, flipping it, finding the right chapter, reading it, then flipping it again is sort of maddening. I just want to read! I want to absorb Gemma and Lyra’s lives into my own, to learn everything i can about them, and having to constantly flip the lengthy hardcover book in my hands is annoying. This face alone almost made me demote the book to only 4 stars. But Oliver’s story saved it.

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The conversation about AI and other robotics is bubbling over the hidden and obscure online sources into everyday talk. From philosophers to celebrities to idiots like me are talking about the the prospect of artificial intelligence in our near future. This is most likely made popular by the sudden stream of AI-related movies and shows like Ghost in the Shell, Ex Machina, Westworld, and others. Suddenly, it’s all anyone can think about in the science fiction realm. Which is why my brain instantly went to AI and the notion of consciousness in a robot when reading through Lyra’s tale. It seemed too easy, though, and it turns out, I was wrong. Lyra isn’t a robot (though all signs point to that in the beginning) instead she is something more grotesque, something more unearthly that confuses the reader to even consider. Sure, we are more accepting of Scarlett Johansson as a crazy, assassin robot that can become invisible, but now (spoiler!) human cloning that actually works? That is just insane!

And yet Oliver has thought of this world. She has done her research too, painstakingly providing details the reader didn’t even know they needed. As if she were playing God, Oliver creates all necessary information to convince both Gemma and those that help her, as well as the reader, that this is, in fact, really happening. From news articles and eye-witness accounts to a plethora of websites with information, Haven Institute becomes something I question why I’m not Googling it now myself. Much like how Tolkien completely births his world, as does Oliver. There are no loose ends or unanswered questions.

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So I’ve talked about the physical book itself, the craziness of the plot, meaning all that is left now is to discuss the beauty in Oliver’s characters. I’m not really sure which girl, either Lyra or Gemma, is my favorite. Probably Lyra because for being a clone with no knowledge outside of Haven, she is incredibly pensive and self-assured about herself. Even when the truth behind Haven Institute hits her square in the face, she is still the same girl. Even when her own truth, about her haunting past, arises before her, she is still a girl that loves The Little Prince and the stars, finds reading a necessity, and has such genuine emotions towards fellow clone, 72.

In my opinion, Lyra’s use in this novel is to demonstrate the unworldliness that we treat our bodies and the bodies of others. Sure there is more science fiction to that, as well as plenty of other ways to read Oliver’s tale, but the body is so important, to Lyra and to Gemma, that one cannot read a page without thinking about it. Lyra is tempted to understand every anatomical drawing and reference sheet available to her eyes throughout Haven; Gemma is self-conscious about her weight, looks, and past illnesses. The Haven Institute itself is using bodies for biological warfare. Not weapons or computers, but people. The human anatomy is now both the trench and the battlefield.

What happens when we as a society put so much emphasis on the body that it becomes the norm to replicate it, to dupe others into believing that a body could be so meaningless and easily replaceable? How easy it would be, with the technology used at Haven, to quickly mass-produce “beautiful people” and do away with any “flaws” such as beauty marks, cellulite, crooked noses, imperfect breasts, eye color, hair color–all of which, today, we already do away with. There are doctors setting up right now for surgery on a person who doesn’t think they are pretty enough to be a part of society. A hair stylist is mixing pigment for a client who insists on having rose gold hair because she saw it on Pinterest and wants her Instagram followers to like her even more. There are lasers and zappers, at home DIY treatments and expensive, anesthesia-requiring surgeries that are performed every day for someone to change the way they were born, to change the way they were created. We take advantage of our bodies every second.

Lyra: She had never showered alone before and it felt wonderful: the big echoey bathroom, the space, aloneness of it. Was this how all people lived? It felt luxurious to her (130).

And then there is Lyra who doesn’t even know, isn’t even capable of knowing what is actually happening to her. And she is so enthralled by something so simple, like a shower, a cellphone, a children’s book, a chart of the heart, that we too, as readers, are forced to question the smaller things that we have always overlooked. Can you imagine how incredibly amazing our nervous system is? Working without us telling it to, without us really even noticing that it’s working at all. We would notice when it stops, of course, but for the most part, our brain is firing off signals all over our body and we’re too preoccupied with an online fail video to think about it.

Lyra is a child at heart, curious and questioning, ready to discover something new in something Gemma has considered old. Pens and paper, ready for anything, is Lyra’s playground. She doesn’t need a tablet computer, the new gaming console, TV streaming and what else. She craves knowledge from things we have since forgotten to care about: ourselves.

She is equally intrigued by the male body, and rightfully so. Since she hasn’t had any proper training on human anatomy, only peeks through books and charts, when she and 72 are no longer at Haven, but instead away from what seems like a concentration camp, Lyra begins to learn the true lessons of love: watch and wait or else you get burned:

Lyra: She’d been interested in the males, of course–curious about them–but shed also learned that curiosity led to disappointment, that it was better not to want, not to look, not to wonder (131).

How innate is that! For a girl, never allowed to interact with the boy clones, she naturally understands that being curious about someone else, someone that she doesn’t quite understand and ultimately finds attractive, can lead to failure and she is scared of that. We’re all scared of that.

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Gemma as an equally hard time figuring out who she is as well. She identifies as an “alien,” her and her best friend April are “aliens” compared to the pretty, popular girls at school. She believes she is a “freak” because of all the illnesses and surgeries she’s had, the scars showing out of her gym clothes, as well as her weight. She’s embarrassed by it all, and since the girls at school continue to make fun her for both, why shouldn’t she be embarrassed? Women, both young and old, are having to live to such ridiculously high beauty standards that the second someone steps out of line, whether it be with ten pounds extra weight or a scar from a life-saving surgery, they no longer fit the mold and are ridiculed. Ironically, Gemma’s “normal” world would prefer their women be like clones–mass produced and beautiful, not individually but as a whole. Whereas Lyra’s world craves individuality in the case with the scar on Lyra’s forehead, though ugly to her, sets her apart from the other–a clone that is different.

Gemma begins to realize, quite quickly too, that there are many more things to be worried about and to fuss over than her weight. When she meets a guy, two guys actually, who really don’t seem to care that she’s slightly over the normal weight of women, her thighs roughly caressing each other when she sits down, she can’t accept that they don’t see her that way. Then she meets Lyra and realizes that she’s been absolutely bonkers for thinking about her thighs when there have been people being experimented on. Strange, how it takes something so drastic for us to wake up and stop caring about how we look.

But Gemma is not a bad person, she is real. She’s a real girl suffering from self-doubt and her own issues. She is a great representer for young women today–dealing with body image, boys, family, school, friends, and moving.

Gemma: But she had already cried…and today she felt nothing but a strange, bobbing sense of emptiness, as if she was a balloon untethered from the earth, slowly floating away into nothingness (33).

Yet she experiences such dramatic and life-altering things that it’s surprising she comes out of it so strong. This book is definitely a coming-of-age tale, but not in the traditional sense. Gemma is forced into her coming-of-age. Instead of struggling with normal teen problems, like her body, Gemma is thrown into a whirlwind of horrors as she discovers her father’s secret. She realizes then that her own issues are minute compared to that of Lyra and 72’s. How can someone sit and obsess over their body when someone next to them is skin and bones because of experimentation? Gemma quickly matures from teen drama to heroine as she defends the rights of Lyra and 72, demanding her parents respect them and her.

Gemma: There was no time, only change, only atoms rotating, only Gemma and Pete and Rick Hairless and a love so turned around and imperfect and blind it could only be called faith (260).

She becomes insightful and courageous, something she never dreamed she could be. Her life obviously changes throughout this book, both for the good and the bad, as she discovers who and what she really is, what her family really is, and who she wants to be in the end.

If you are interested in anything science fiction, want a twinge of romance, and heart-stopping suspense then this is surely a read for you. Oliver has crafted such a unique tale that battles for recognition. It has been a while since I’ve read something so heartfelt and genuine and overall different in the Young Adult category. Thank you Lauren!

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Strong Female Protagonist Review

I feel so strongly about this comic; everything about it speaks to me as a writer, as a young adult (okay I’m 22, but still), and most importantly, as a woman.

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Strong Female Protagonist writing by Brennan Lee Mulligan; illustrations by Molly Ostertag
Published by Top Shelf Productions on November 25th 2014
Genres: Comics, Feminism, Coming of Age
Pages: 220
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Nobles

Final Review: 5 out of 5 ★★★★★


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First, I’m going to express my love for the title: Strong Female Protagonist. Mulligan and Ostertag are pretty much me when it comes to procrastination, and but then run with it. This title sounds like something they typed into the file’s title just to be able to find it on their desktop later–and that is the brilliant part of it. It’s so commonplace that you can insert any female into the title. It tells the reader exactly what they need to know, what they should know, about the piece. This comic, like Paper Girls, is in silent conversation with the feminist talk of today. As I’ve noted in my Paper Girls 1 and 2 review, the mere fact that this comic follows a girl, instead of a boy lead, already turns the stereotype of comics on its head. Comics used to be a hobby for boys, and I think it’s safe that to say to some extent it still is. Most of today’s comics feature male superheroes or female leads wearing barely any clothing on–who is that for I wonder? Don’t get me wrong, though, the male lead comics are still entertaining for anyone of any gender, but that’s why I love comics like this one and Paper Girls. Girls are now the superheroes, but they aren’t without their flaws or regular pants and shirts. In some cases they are children, like in Paper Girls, or college students, as in SFP, who try to juggle school, friendship and romantic relationships, and supervillians.

This brings me to the other amazing part about this comic: the storyline. There is no cheesiness to be found here, folks. Ostertag and Mulligan have thought about how a real teen hero would react to her hidden identity and sudden super strength. Alison Green never once enjoys being called a hero–she much prefers being unnoticed all together. She knows that as a superhero for the town, her profession comes with broken relationships as well as hatred from the common people. No tax-paying individual wants to deal with a destroyed city once Mega Girl and her gang are done battling some radioactive villain. So Mega Girl faces a lot of backlash. On top of this, Alison is still young–young enough to be unsure of her path and who she wants to be. Does she want to hang up her cape? Is being a superhero for a town that seems to hate her really worth it? Is she suffering as a consequence? Sure, I’m not a superhero during the day, but I was once a college student and understand the struggle that resides in someone who separates themselves too far–between school, romantic interests, social life, and a job, it’s hard to know which way to turn when they all need you at once.

Ostertag and Mulligan create this young woman and give her the ability to be a hero, though she doesn’t need to have super strength in order to do that. The reader watches Alison repair relationships with her younger sister and family, the relationship hurdles that all growing teenagers find themselves in; as well as friendships when she does decide to take off the mask. How does she handle a drunken, but offensive statement from a friend? Or a friend that uses her as a punchline? So Ostertag and Mulligan use super strength as a medium to converse about the real issues, issues all young women are facing today–hatred, confusion, frustration, identity, masculinity and patriarchy, our own bodies, and so on.

Finally, the art style is just so lovable. It comes across as classically comic-like as well as sketchy, something that someone drew offhand and then was told it was good enough to be turned into something–there is something remarkable about that. This comic doesn’t need perfection in the drawing, or realism for that matter–the storyline is certainly real enough. By keeping with the classic cartoon-like style, the illustrator shifts the focus to the dialogue and plot line, as well as keeping with the 180 degree comic twist. So it looks like a regular comic, feels like a regular comic, but is made for strong women who want to be everyday heroes.

Please read this comic if a real female superhero is your cup of tea–no skimpy, tight “superhero turned stripper” outfits. Also read this comic if you like classic comic art style, funny, but real relationships, and overall coming of age tales. I desperately want the creators to come out with Book 2 in trade paperback, but for those that cannot wait, please continue reading their amazing work at: strongfemaleprotagonist.com.

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Dear My New Best Friends,

Dear Jenny Lawson, Ruby Elliot, and Allie Brosh,

Dear award-winning authors,

Dear you crazy women,

Dear my new best friends,

I’m assuming you’ve heard this many, many, many times over (I’m hoping it doesn’t get old), but I want to thank each of you for the work you have done. To some, your work might seem like fun books with drawings and crazy taxidermy stories, and while this is totally true, your books have been so much more to me. I honestly don’t even know where to begin this review–and let’s be honest, this is hardly a review at this point but more like word-vomit colored with fancy sprinkles and googly eyes. All five books get five stars and if you don’t like that, you can leave. This is my website after all. If I must nitpick, I would give Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson five out of five stars and Let’s Pretend This Never Happened also by Lawson four-and-a-half stars simply because that’s how much I love Furiously Happy. So you get five stars! And you get five stars! Everyone gets five staaarrrsss!

But seriously, I am in awe of all of you. I think I might be in love with all three of you at the same time. Can we have a sleepover?

Did that come off as too creepy? I’m sure at a Barnes and Noble signing, you guys have heard worse–like someone’s comment about how your hair smells and you wonder how he knows. Or someone on meth asks you to a steak dinner with a note reading: Attn. pretty lady behind the counter. Wait…these things happened to me, not you. Anyways, dear god do not ever change. Please, for the love of humanity, keep writing, drawing, living your beautiful lives so nobodies like me, who frantically type up raves that no one will read, have something to do with their boring, depression-ridden lives.

You all speak to me–individually and together. We are having a conversation together, whether you intended for it or not.

Positive conversations between women are crucial today and by displaying all sides of yourselves, you three women (and I’m sure many more) are having a conversation with each reader, letting them know that everything they are feeling from mental illness to motherhood, from husbands/boyfriend/girlfriends to family issues and work issues, we are not the only ones. These feelings, emotions, dark and light thoughts are happening to women all around the globe. By publishing these stories, these non-fiction tales, Lawson, Brosh, and Elliot are letting me know that what I am experiencing right now, in this very moment, might be both horrible and hilarious, or the worst and the best. Because you all talk about these issues as everyday problems, and yet still a crucial part of you, you are normalizing issues that society has hushed. No experience from a woman is allowed to be discredited or silenced any longer.

With the changing of hands in our government, the repealing of Obamacare and the lack of care for mental health patients, I am scared that my drugs that keep me stable enough to live each day will no longer by supported by my insurance. I’m scared that those like me, that have problem waking up in the morning because of something dark sitting on their chest, will not receive the help that they, that we, need. Depression and anxiety might seem commonplace on the internet, it is still misunderstand or not wildly accepted as a real thing. Many do not understand, and choose to not understand because these illnesses do not affect them the way they affect us, and this scares me. However, thanks to you guys, you have made these illnesses even more commonplace and easier to explain. I can show RubyEtc.’s pictures or Brosh’s drawings to my boyfriend, so he can grasp what I’m feeling when words escape me. I can color in and hang a picture drawn by Lawson’s beautiful hand in a heavy-traffic space in my house, so I can see it every day and feel “normal.”

Like you, like many women, I struggle with my mental illnesses. In fact, I feel as if saying this is so commonplace that my readers will be like “Yeah, so? We all do. You’re not special in saying that you have mental heal issues.” However, it is so easy to feel alone in our own minds. Sure, logically I know I’m not the only one with depression, anxiety about time, etc. but since most of the people I surround myself with do not experience these crippling issues, I can feel more alone. You guys take that feeling away. I am not alone thanks to your books. I am normal thanks to your books.

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Order in which I read, starting on the left.

So to Ruby Elliot:

Thank you for putting pictures to my thoughts and feelings. In the beginning stages of my mental illness, I didn’t even know I had problems–I just thought I had temper tantrums, anger management problems, and tons of emotions because I was always crying. Once I started therapy and began putting names to the feelings, I felt much better. And you have done that again. If someone asks me how I’m feeling, I can just show them your book. Pictures are so much easier to digest and interpret. In our busy lives, sitting and reading an entire self-help book is unlikely (okay but I do this anyways), but being able to flip through your book to a dog-eared page and remember that you felt this way strong enough to draw it out for me to ponder on is remarkable. Here are some pictures (that I took myself) of your pictures that perfectly describe me (please excuse potato quality and my nail polish):

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To Allie Brosh:

I had one of my least favorite English professors recommend your book. He is a condescending arse-hole and actually got fired from my school. Now I’m assuming this has NOTHING do to with your book and more to do with the fact that no one likes him. However, once I started reading Elliot’s book and had read one of Lawson’s, everyone began asking me if I had heard of or read Hyperbole and a Half. I was always brought back to that classroom with my teacher saying he had found myself in your book (so condescendingly might I add) and I wanted to smack him. But trust me. I get it now. Sure he’s a prick, this letter isn’t about him, but goodness Ms. Brosh, I think I peed my pants while reading your book (I wouldn’t be surprised if many strangers tell you that). Not only this, but even though I’ve been on medication for four years now and have seemed to grasp my own problems as far as mental illness goes, you still have shed new light on what I once was feeling and what I still am currently feeling.

The beginning of my depression had been nothing but feelings, so the emotional deadening that followed was a welcome relief…But my experiences slowly flattened and blended together until it became obvious that there’s a huge difference between not giving a fuck and not being able to give a fuck…Which leads to horrible, soul-decaying boredom (124-25).

I feel like when I start therapy again once I move, I could simply bring in chapters from your book and say “This. Diagnose this, and you’ve diagnosed me.” On top of the mental illness similarities, you just totally understand the other weird shit that I feel:

It feels unfair when the other things in the world refuse to be governed by my justice system. [Brosh goes on to draw a panel about falling in love with an otter in a magazine, and then wondering why the otter has betrayed her by not being real and in front of her] (276-77).

Why do we feel this way? I don’t know, but thank you for pointing out a thing I do that I really didn’t even know that I did until you pointed it out.

Finally, to the mastermind Jenny Lawson:

Where do I even begin? You were my first; my first for a lot of things. Furiously Happy was not only the first book I bought that you wrote, it was the first “mental illness is a topic in this book” book that I bought, and I’m pretty sure it was the first book that made me laugh so freaking hard I wanted to throw up. Jenny,–I can call you Jenny, right?–I want to be like how you are to your own mental health issues. I know that that is kind of a shitty and fucked up thing to say, knowing your history with self-harm and just general issues, but seriously. You not only put to words feelings and emotions that leave me speechless and that I cannot describe to the lesser, normal people, but you then take it a step further and depict the ways that you are actually living with it. Your stories, particularly all those in Furiously Happy, have made me want to be a better person towards the issues that battle each other inside my cranium. You are so proud of yourself and the work you’ve accomplished–being a famous blogger, bestselling author, loving mother and wife, taxidermy animal collector–all while struggling with these non-curable problems. And you’ve done it so hilariously and real. I cannot thank you enough for being the type of person who is so true to herself and just also happens to have crippling mental problems and doesn’t use them as a crutch for her life.

I’m pretty sure I’ve dogeared my entire copy of Furiously Happy, so much so I can’t even find an appropriate passage to turn into a block quote here because I’m pretty sure I can’t insert the entire text–must be some sort of law. All I know is that throughout Furiously Happy and Let’s Pretend This Never Happened I was laughing so hard I was peeing and my boyfriend was wondering if I was going to make it out alive (uhh the pooping story in LPTNH??), I was nodding my head in complete and utter agreement with other tales, and for once in my life, dreaming about visiting Texas. And though I haven’t had the chance to fully go through You Are Here, I know while it might not be as hilarious as your tears-in-the-eyes stories you tell, it will only further complete my collection of your work.

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These are the things that I need to get through the day.

Take One Drop of Pretty, and Call Me in the Morning

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wow. just, wow. I cannot get over this book. I am totally blown away by how unassuming Clark’s book is, resting neatly on the shelf in barns and noble where I purchased it, only to completely mind-fuck me with each page turn.

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The Regulars by Georgia Clark
Published by Atria/Emily Bestler Books on August 2nd 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Feminism, Friendship, Romance, Beauty
Pages: 400
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Noble

Final Review 5 out of 5

★★★★★

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Picture that episode of Sherlock where the victims of an unknown cause of death are to choose from two pills: one will kill you, the other lets you live. Now, The Regulars is certainly not that dramatic, but the choice of poison is still there. Would you drink a drop of Pretty, a powerful “drug” that once swallowed, turns the user into their most perfect, beautiful, “pretty” self.

Three friends, roommates Evie Selby and Krista Kumar, along with Willow Hendrickson, have been friends since their college days. Naturally living in NYC as three, young, talented, but unrecognized women can be difficult and bills need to be paid. Evie works at Salty, a magazine that seems loosely based on our world’s Cosmo. She is a lowly editor (wait, I want that job), but has dreams of writing big league stories on real women’s issues. Krista is a law-school dropout turned aspiring actress. She cannot seem to catch an acting break though and owes Evie quite a few dollars in bills. Finally, there’s Willow, who actually needs no help financially seeing as her father is a famous movie producer. She, instead, needs help finding her own, personal path of art without the help, and support, of her father.

When Krista is approached by an old classmate, whom she doesn’t recognize, and given a strange purple vial containing a liquid called “Pretty” the three girl’s lives will change. Pretty turns each user into their truest, best, most popular and overall prettiest self. It sheds pounds, gray hairs, unwanted overly large noses, and more. It changes hair color, length and texture, eye color, removes blemishes and even tattoos. It truly creates a person who is worthy of fashion magazines and prom queen titles.

Each woman takes Pretty for a different reason and therefore create their alter-egos. Krista becomes Lenka Penka, a beautiful aspiring actress who needs a new agent and new movie. Evie becomes Chloe Fontaine, a new face for Salty‘s new live show Extra Salty where Evie hopes to influence people politically. And Willow turns into Caroline for the simple reason of trying it. She later develops a method to her madness in using Caroline as a model in her photographs.

Love interests bloom, careers expand, and overall good things happen to those that are pretty, all while the three aren’t really themselves. So why bother going back? Why not have it all? The brains and personality of a Regular but the look and taste of a Pretty? Who’s even stopping them? They are young and hungry women, eager to make a name for themselves in the big city and they have a secret potion that is going to get them there.

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Take this fanart  “There’s no such thing as ugly”; I understand the message they are trying to send–a classic case of “everyone and everything is beautiful” and while they’re not wrong in wanting to believe that, Clark’s characters echo through my mind.

In a rational world, a hopeful world, there wouldn’t be anything described as ugly, but on a realistic level, there are many, many things holding that description and it doesn’t even have to be women! Certain Lularoe legging patterns, the world’s ugliest dog [okay, but all dogs are cute, right?], insects, deep-sea creatures, those toaster cars, the lovely and inevitable acne, and the list continues. It is horrendous that “ugly” is commonly used to describe people or features of a person whether it be their hair or their personality. So instead of writing another tale about women’s bodies through rose-colored glasses, Clark writes about the good, the bad, and of course, the ugly.

If you are interested in a refreshing tale that will completely take you by surprise, then I suggest you picking up this pink book. Sitting perfectly on the shelf, just like a little jar of Pretty, it screams simple but edgy, it has something to say and boy does Clark say it.

Evie’s, or should I say Chloe’s, makeup artist at Extra Salty, Marcello, asks the question Clark poses:

“Does that annoy you?” Marcello asked, dotting Evie’s skin with foundation. “The fact you’re not in charge of how you look?” (page 256)

Aren’t we all a little annoyed that we can painstakingly work on profiles, lip proportions, chin jut outs on a Sim character, but not on ourselves? Of course, we are! We’re realists! Someone is always going to want bigger boobs, less bushy eyebrows, curlier hair, and the opposites to go with those. So, of course, we’re mad that with a snap of fingers, our face is rid of acne, age spots, dark spots, scars, wrinkles, and anything else women are told is ugly. But of course, we can’t do that. There is no magic pill, serum, or drink; this isn’t Wonderland and we aren’t Alice. We are real and our “ugly” features are real too; they are a part of us. And when we take those away, are we really us anymore?

Evie doesn’t seem to think so when she becomes Chloe Fontaine for the first time, but she brushes it away quickly:

The most unusual inclusions were two subtractions: first, she no longer needed glasses…And second, her tattoo was gone. This struck her as odd: she was fond of her tat, but the ink had spread over the years and was sun-faded. By comparison, the space where it used to be on her forearm resembled pristine carved marble (page 94).

Two vital parts of her are missing: first, her glasses, a necessary accessory that she had been wearing since 10 years old, and then her tattoo, a permanent piece of art that she chose to get for some reason at some point, was now missing. Sure these are minor, and in a way, we have the availability to rid ourselves of poor eyesight (contacts, laser eye surgery) and bad tattoos (tattoo removal i.e. a saw), but Evie didn’t necessarily see either of those features as ugly but the Pretty did and in order for her to become her perfect self, she must be rid of anything ugly–including things that made her feel pretty at one point.

I myself have 5 tattoos, all that have deep meaning to me. The reader doesn’t know what Evie’s tattoo is, but it begs the question of whether or not tattoos are “pretty” enough to be included in someone’s Pretty form. Clearly, Evie’s wasn’t.


Moving on from Evie, Willow/Caroline is probably my favorite character in the story. Although Evie seems to dominate Clark’s world, Willow, to me, seems the most relatable. Evie is a pronounced feminist and woman-rioter. She has short hair, is a blogger, and denounces her Cosmopolitain-like magazine. Krista, on the other hand, is extremely bubbly and overall annoying. She only thinks of herself when taking the Pretty (well, I suppose all three women only think of themselves when taking the Pretty…) and doesn’t seem to want to do any good with it. Finally, there’s Willow, who although she doesn’t use her new beauty for good, per se, the reader watches as Pretty completely shuts her down–a normal reaction I presume to such an addictive and overwhelming drug.

She notes spot on that by becoming Caroline, this alter-ego of herself, she isn’t Willow anymore. It doesn’t bother her that she is no longer the daughter or friend or girlfriend people in her life care for because now she can feel like a “normal” person in the world; her anxiety and depression don’t cripple her on a daily basis–she can create a person who doesn’t have any mental illness at all and this is exactly what she does.

There was something about being Caroline that was so incredibly freeing. Caroline didn’t carry herself with an invisible shield. Sometimes Willow felt like she was always conducting two conversations with the world: the one that was spoken out loud, and the one she carried with her, inside her head. Caroline wasn’t like that. Caroline didn’t hide her body. Caroline didn’t double-check her statements to make sure they sounded smart. Caroline knew how to flirt. Caroline was liberated (page 202-03).

Willow as Caroline, of course, makes mistakes–all of the girls do. She does stupid things, ranging from completely ignoring her two best friends for days on end to flirting with her own boyfriend as a different person. All of this is in the name of art, though. Her photography is what separates her from her father’s Hollywood movies and her friends “adult” careers. She finds peace in her photography, so imagine the inner peace she gets from being Caroline and taking pictures? This all spirals out of control, obviously, and Caroline starts to take over. Who are the girls now without their alter-egos? What if they decide to never be their old selfs again?

“And I know you think makeup sets an unrealistic standard and yadda yadda yadda, but the way I see it, I’m just helping people bring out their inner goddess. I can’t make you beautiful, Chloe. I can just help you see, with a little color here and a little color there, that you are already beautiful” (page 257).

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Being Regular wasn’t enough though for the three women and others in New York who are taking Pretty. Though Marcello’s words resonate with all of us, and Evie when he tells her this, their beauty standards are still impeccably high. Once Evie and Krista transform into Chloe and Lenka respectively for the second time, they notice that some features are not as elegant or brilliant as before from their first transformation. Krista/Lenka’s eyes are not as sea-green and Evie/Chloe’s chin juts out a little more than she remembered. Is this the beginning of the Pretty becoming the Regular? If taken so many times, what is to say that the Pretty version completely takes over the Regular version and suddenly the Pretty is actually the Regular version? We are always going to find faults with our faces, bodies, hair. I have days where I feel completely and utterly badass–strutting myself down the streets, feeling unstoppable. But the next day, a simple 16 hours later or so, another woman can feel the same way–strutting down the sidewalk past me–and totally shatter my self-esteem. Why doesn’t my winged eyeliner look that great? Are those honey-colored highlights? I should try that! She worked it so much better than me today, I’m a failure. These feelings flipflop, interchanging and always coming as a surprise. That woman, though, that made me question myself, was probably questioning herself just the other day too. She must have seen another woman online, in a magazine or person, who seemed to have it all and broke her self-confidence in one blink.

We are so hard on ourselves. A war wages before our eyes when we look in the mirror.

Taking Pretty opened up Evie, Krista, and Willow’s eyes and certainly the readers. I did not enter this book expecting such harsh, but at the same time optimistic commentary on women’s bodies in today’s world. Clark’s story is fresh and honest, it is not a simple remedy tale–in fact, indirectly she recommends taking a little dose of Pretty. Without knowing what our most perfect, most pretty self looks like–and thus the disaster that follows with that–how are we to appreciate our true selves?

At first, Evie felt self-conscious of the way her stomach bulged over the satin hot pants’ tiny waistband, the way her arms seemed heavy and thick in the sleeveless gold top. But none of the other early risers even gave her a second look. Not because she didn’t matter, Evie realized. Because in New York, everything was permissible. No one cared what you wore, how you looked. Only you cared about those things.

Her body was back. And she felt good about it (page 363-65).

 

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