Monday, July 9, 2012

Clarity in Black and White

My Life in Black and White
In life, there are many circumstances and situations that can give us clarity, or make us see our lives in a way we have never seen ourselves before. Very often, those circumstances are traumatic and life-altering. In My Life in Black and White by Natasha Friend, a young woman's life is changed forever with one bad decision... but it might not be as bad as she thinks it is.

Lexi is beautiful. She is known for her beauty. She is so beautiful a photographer stopped her on the street and wanted to sign her as a model (much to her father's horror). She lives her life conscious of her looks and how they affect everyone around her, including her boyfriend, Ryan, and her best friend, Taylor. But when she walks in on Taylor and Ryan hooking up at a party, she makes a decision she will regret for the rest of her life. She gets in the car with Taylor's brother, and they get into an accident.  They both survive, but not in one piece. Lexi's face is horribly disfigured, bones are crushed, and after many surgeries, she needs a skin graft to cover the hole in her cheek... with skin from her butt. As if being disfigured wasn't traumatizing enough, now Lexi is an actual "butt-face".

Lexi has lost her boyfriend, her best friend, and her entire world is spinning out of control. Her parents are worried about her, she locks herself in her room for weeks, and she even refuses to return to school. Taylor and Ryan keep trying to apologize, but nothing can erase that night from her mind, especially since every glance at a mirror brings it right back to her. While Lexi just wants everything to be over, she finds hope and healing in unexpected places. Her weird band-geek sister is more supportive than Lexi ever gave her credit for being. Her Mother-of-the-Year mom does everything she can to help her daughter, even if she doesn't always say the right thing. And a boy, the kind of boy Lexi never would have considered before the accident, is willing to help her find an outlet for her anger with some boxing gloves. Her life may have been turned upside down, but sometimes that is the best way to head in a totally different direction.

I loved this book. I think the story was really great and the moral was strong but not hokey, but my favorite part about this book was just how real and raw the characters were. I hate to even call them characters because they felt like real flesh and blood people. Lexi suffered a tragedy, yes, but she was also selfish, self-centered, and had a lot of trouble seeing past her own tragedy. Her sister was fabulous. Ruthie marched to the beat of her own drum, did what she wanted, and always scoffed at Lexi's need for popularity. But there was more to her. She loved her sister despite Lexi's selfishness, but she wasn't afraid to call her on her actions. And the way she supported Lexi was so sisterly, the good, the bad, and the ugly, it made me think of the relationship between my sister and I. This is a relationship you can only really understand if you have a sister yourself. And if you do, you will know Natasha Friend did a brilliant job of bringing that tumultuous, loving, devoted relationship to the pages of this book. Lexi's mom was complicated and loving, but oblivious at times, like any teenager would assume their mother to be. Even the friends and the cheating jerk-face of an ex-boyfriend had an unexpected depth. I just couldn't get over the characters in this book. 

But the story itself was just as good. This transformation of Lexi was so complex and really explored the many stages of grief, because when you lose the very thing that defines you, like your appearance, there really is a grieving process. She was a tough, snarky, sassy young woman who wasn't afraid to "use her words" in a way that could make you cringe right along with her. And you travel that journey right along with her. I would love to give this book to any variety of students, although some of the language and intimate scenes might make it best for high school aged students. In particular, this is a great book for any young woman who has a hard time looking past appearances into the actual souls of the people around them. We all know teens can get wrapped up in their own lives and forget about the world at large, so sometimes you need a book like this one to open up a dialogue they might not have in any other situation. Sometimes you have to take a cold, hard look at what you hold dear, at the priorities you have set for yourself. Are you really the best person you can be?

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