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Outside Beauty Hardcover – June 3, 2008

24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 7 Up—Shelby, 13, and her three sisters, ages 16, 8, and 6, have different fathers. They live in early-1980s Chicago with their free-spirited mother, Helen, a striking and beauty-obsessed Japanese bombshell. Helen is a cult of personality unto herself, and the older girls happily care for the younger ones while Mom collects boyfriends. When she is in a disfiguring car accident, the girls separate to live with their fathers. Shelby's dad is a kind, level-headed Japanese greenhorn, while six-year-old Maddie's, an Anglo, is a patronizing, abusive bully. The four girls plot their escape—back to Helen, but really back to one another. The novel is oddly missing pop-culture references, so the '80s setting is perplexing and extraneous. The first chapters of the book are packed with contrived, purposefully madcap shenanigans and creaky, expository dialogue. Once the scene is set, though, Shelby settles into a more natural, thoughtful voice, and the surprisingly gripping plot gains pace and substance. The cloyingly devil-may-care mood of the opening turns mercifully more sober and suspenseful as the girls' troubles deepen. The sisters have distinct, authentic voices, and their conversations are smooth, snappy, and believable. The male characters are well drawn too, especially Shelby's sweet, hilarious father, who gets the best lines in the book. Shelby's running commentary on beauty is smart and poignant, as is her portrayal of a mother she both loves and reviles.—Johanna Lewis, New York Public Library
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From Booklist

Shelby, Maddie, Lakey, and Marilyn have the same mother but four different fathers. Their Japanese mother is obsessed with her beauty, which she uses to charm the men she meets and seduces in order to keep her family solvent. The four Chicago sisters have primarily raised themselves and are incredibly close. Late one night, their world shifts after they learn that their mother has been injured in an auto accident and will require extensive plastic surgery. The girls can’t stay alone, so they are separated and farmed out to their fathers. Only Shelby and her father, Jiro, reach each other’s hearts, and it’s Jiro who eventually understands that the sisters need to be together. His realization only comes, though, after the girls’ enact a junior-high version of a Thelma & Louise auto escape. Kadohata, author of the Newbery Medal–winner Kira-Kira (2004), never fully develops the theme of beauty that’s implied by the title, but Shelby’s venture to Arkansas, where she has some first experiences with outdoor living, is endearing, as are the relationships among the closely connected sisters. Grades 6-9. --Cindy Dobrez

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 620L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers; First Edition edition (June 3, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0689865759
  • ISBN-13: 978-0689865756
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,974,907 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Cynthia Kadohata has lived in Chicago, Georgia, Arkansas, Michigan, Los Angeles, Boston, Pittsburgh, and New York City. She has worked as a waitress, sales clerk, typist, publicist, and secretary. She's back to Los Angeles now, probably permanently, and lives with George, her boyfriend of fifteen years; Sammy, her much-loved son; and two very funny and probably insane dogs. She has published three novels for grown-ups, and her writing has appeared in Grand Street, the Mississippi Review, The New Yorker, and Ploughshares. Her first children's novel, Kira-Kira, won the Newbery Medal in 2005. She has also published the children's books Weedflower, winner of the Pen-USA; Cracker, winner of six state awards as voted on by kids; Outside Beauty; A Million Shades of Gray; and The Thing About Luck, winner of the 2013 National Book Award. Her next novel is Half a World Away, due out September 2, 2014. Half a World Away is the tale of a troubled young boy who was adopted from Romania at age eight and whose parents are adopting a baby from Kazakhstan.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By TeensReadToo on July 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover
It's always been Shelby, her mom, and her three sisters. The story is told through Shelby's eyes. She is the second eldest of the four. They live in an untraditional family, to say the least. Each of the sisters has a different father. And they each have different ancestry, as well. One is half Japanese, half Italian. One is half Japanese and half Chinese. One is half Japanese and half Anglo. And Shelby is all Japanese.

Their mom has always been on the quest for eternal beauty and the rich husband. None of the girls' fathers have satisfied her, even though Lakey's father, Larry, wants to marry her. It's only after learning of Larry's engagement to another woman that Helen realizes what she could've had.

Even with the bizarre family ties, the girls and their mother are close. They do everything together. And though maybe unconventional, their mother has done a good job raising the girls. It's only after her mother is in a serious car accident that their world crumbles. Since none of the girls are legally adults, Helen must arrange homes for the girls while she recovers.

It is decided that each of the girls will go to live with their respective fathers. Shelby has only seen her father a handful of times. Jiro is a reserved man, living a quiet life in Arkansas. Except for the fact that he dresses terribly uncool, as the summer unfolds, Shelby realizes he's not a bad man, just unknown to her.

It's Maddie that has the worst situation. Her father, Mr. Bronson, has been legally trying to obtain custody of her, stating Helen is an unfit mother. He's a stern disciplinarian, and Maddie's personality starts to disappear, living in his oppressive home.

When notified that their mother may die, all the girls are flown home to be with her.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Carol M on August 6, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The book jacket lists this book for ages 12+. But I would strongly encourage parents and teachers to pre-read this book before recommending it to anyone under about 15. While there is nothing explicit or graphic in the book, there are a number of references to very casual sexual activity among adults (not wearing panties to parties, trading `favors' for car service, a date expecting to `get what he has paid for'). These incidents are reported very dispassionately by the 13 year old protagonist, as it is just commonplace in her life. That fits perfectly for the voice of this character. But I personally would not want to give this to a preteen or young teen who is just starting to gather clues about how people behave sexually. I think it would be fine for a mid or older teen.

That said, I found Outside Beauty to be a great read. The basic plot and premise of the story is unique. It's the story of a single mother and her four daughters. The mother is quite shallow and values beauty (and what it can get her) above all else. She teaches these values quite effectively to her young brood. Because of an accident, the girls are split up and sent to live with different fathers, in very different living situations. It's a beautiful story of how a strong familial bond will overcome exceptional circumstances.

Outside Beauty is told from the viewpoint of the second-oldest daughter, Shelby. I found the "voice" of this character to be very authentic. I enjoyed the variety of characters in this novel. Each daughter and each father has a distinct personality. Although each character is fairly one-dimensional, and some are stereotypical, it works quite well as an ensemble.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Andrea VINE VOICE on August 6, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book was a fun romp from start to finish. Although not the typical type of book I normally read, I enjoyed it very much. This book is about Helen, a beautiful Japanese woman, and her four daughters:

(In birth order, oldest to youngest)

1) Marilyn - half Japanese and half Italian; father: Mack.

2) Shelby - half Japanese and half Japanese (which would make her full Japanese); father: Jiro

3) Lakey - half Japanese and half Chinese; father: Larry

4) Maddie - half Japanese and half Anglo; father: Mr. Bronson

Helen is an extremely beautiful woman who takes full advantages of her astonishing beauty. Because of this beauty, she does not have to work; she can take advantage of men and let them support her. She is so beautiful, she can afford to only deal with the rich, successful winners - not the junky losers. She goes through boyfriends like water. This seems unrealistic, but there are realistic parallels that make it seem more realistic. Such as, the men don't always wait around for her - they find other women; she isn't necessarily happy and might be lonely; men fight even beautiful women for custody; accidents and bad things can happen even to the beautiful. (The moral I see in it: 'Do not envy Helen or any other woman like her'.)

Even though Helen is nontypical and off the beaten path, she is a wonderful mother and loves her four daughters. The four sisters love each other and would do anything for each other (which says a lot). Helen was doing something right as a mother, obviously.

This lovely book, narrated by the second oldest daughter, Shelby, is a wonderful tale of the four sisters and their bond and their adventures.
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