Gorgeous by Paul Rudnick, released in 2013
When eighteen-year-old Becky Randle’s mother dies, she’s summoned from her Missouri trailer park to meet Tom Kelly, the world’s top designer. He makes her an impossible offer: He’ll create three dresses to transform Becky from a nothing special girl into the most beautiful woman who ever lived.
Never before have I felt such a need to review a book before I finished it. To shout out my thoughts mid-chapter. But here I am, at the end of the second chapter of Gorgeous, with a lot on my mind. First of all: Rudnick writes in paragraph-long sentences. This book is in first person, so technically it’s the main character, Becky, who is a class-A rambler. She will include at least three main points in a sentence and between every capital letter and period I feel like I’ve been to Australia and back – A.K.A., it’s a whole journey. And I’m a reader who leans into a sentence. Not sure if this rings with anyone else, but my mind “picks up speed” as a sentence goes on, so I feel like I’m running as I read her thoughts. I’m out of breath guys. It’s a lot to handle.
But Becky (and thus Rudnick) is witty! I love the rambling sentences because she’s funny and punny and relatable even while I HATE them because it’s one run-on after another. I want to quit reading because I’m mentally exhausted just as much as I want to keep reading because I love her humour. I have never been so torn between extremes. And this is me two chapters in?? One last point before I *do* keep reading, because I want to give the book a fair shot: it’s not just the form that gives the book an incredibly fast pace, but also the plot structure. In the first two chapters (ten pages) we are introduced to Becky’s mom, Becky’s mom dies, Becky finds a hidden card in her house, she calls up the number, gets a ticket to New York from the company the number belongs to, debates with her best friend if she should go, goes, meets the head of the company (Tom Kelly), finds out her mom was a supermodel, AND FINALLY is offered the chance to get three ~magical~ dresses from Tom Kelly. Phewf. Ten pages?????
I’m back. I’m back and it’s chapter nine, page 74, and my emotions are in flux. I skipped summarising the book at the beginning because I’m doing a bit of a play by play down here (as you can see, this review is not following the rules). But to get you up to speed, Becky has worn the red dress and now she is ~beautiful~. The book blurb said this was going to happen, so okay, no shocker. One thing the book blurb did not include that whatever, I will spoil for you because it is certainly worth knowing going in? Becky must marry within one year or she will lose her beauty. SO. SO. SO. HMM. LET ME DIVE INTO THIS.
To keep it brief, social standards for women’s beauty are f*k’d up. It’s all “look like this” or “do this” or “this is not okay.” Women NEED TO FEEL BEAUTIFUL IN THEIR OWN SKIN. I would go on a full rant about this, but I do want to keep this review on the shorter side and I can feel in my bones it’s going to be long. What I have experienced with Becky’s characterization *so far* (because yes, this is only chapter nine, who knows what amazing morals Rudnick will impart in the closing scenes) is that she scenes herself as a dumpy, pale skinned, boring looking person and that this means she is not as worthy of love or acceptance as “more attractive” people. Becky’s perception is not denied by anyone around her: Tom Kelly and his design team are always like, “LOL yeah, you’re not beautiful. Look at everything we have to do to make you beautiful.” (It should be noted her mother and best friend are supportive of her looks, though the best friend never denies she isn’t beautiful.)
No, a main character who sees themselves as unattractive is not the end of the world. Hello, so many people in the world don’t like their appearance and/or feel excluded by “more attractive” people. It’s a relatable experience. What annoys me is that I’m assuming this book is going to teach me about inner VS outer beauty and so far everyone Becky surrounds herself with is like, “Yup, you’re hella ugly.” It’s really distasteful to read and if *I* was having body image issues, trust me, I would hate myself all the more with an entourage like that. And Becky idolizes these people!! If you’re going to produce a book with positive ideals, have them intro’d a little earlier in the book, maybe??
I will continue to read on, but will activate my skimming abilities. Because this book is now officially on my nerves. It doesn’t help that most of the characters are unlikeable (Becky is barely tolerable now. All she cares about is her newly acquired good looks), the author threw in a marriage plot (Becky is eighteen. Are we seriously entertaining the idea of her getting hitched??), and these rambling sentences never end!!
I don’t like this book. I just made the decision. [SPOILER] On page 98-99, Rebecca (as Becky calls herself when she is glamorous-looking) is filming a scene in a movie. And she is apparently so sexy and hot that just by talking, she gives the film director an erection. [SPOILER] NO. NO NO NO. I disagree so much. I dislike so much. This scene gives Rebecca a massive power trip and she’s like, “Ooh, yeah, I’m beautiful and men love me,” but appearance is nothing okay? First off, I don’t know that much about anatomy, but I really doubt men will get such a reaction from a woman talking. We’re getting into lust territory here and just … ugh. I don’t want to finish this book but I want to give a closing summary for y’all so back to skimming.
The end of the book had some good twists and turns. I really don’t know what to say about all of this. Did Becky learn that vanity is all for nothing? Um, I think so. She definitely came to terms with her “Becky” identity but still kind of sees “Rebecca” as a goddess. Don’t pick this book up to get your values aligned, how about that?
Two crowns because this book has way too many annoying characters (so many shallow women! Not everyone is obsessed with only looks, and caring about looks doesn’t make you vapid!), interesting plot lines weren’t given the attention they deserved (Jate. That is all. I can’t get into that because there would be a whole page of explicating on my part), and the ending is kind of half-assed. Like … there is a magical element to the book and when Becky is like “but how??” the answer is legit “who can know, am I right?” Uhhhhhh. Rudnick, you plotted this book out, you should know at least a little.
The saddest thing is this book idea is so INTERESTING. Magical dresses? Transformative looks? Inner VS Outer beauty? Anyway, good for you, I have read a ~quite similar~ book that actually aces this topic so I will recommend Meg Cabot’s Airhead. Soooo much better, really funny, and makes you think at the same time.
Well, there’s always next week for a better read. Let me know what I should read and review next Chooseday Tuesday by voting in the comments.
(1) Just One Wish by Janette Rallison [Humour/Romance]
Seventeen-year-old Annika Truman knows about the power of positive thinking. With a little brother who has cancer, it’s all she ever hears about. And in order to help Jeremy, she will go to the ends of the earth (or at least as far as Hollywood) to help him believe he can survive his upcoming surgery.
But Annika’s plan to convince Jeremy that a magic genie will grant him any wish throws her a curveball when he unexpectedly wishes that his television idol would visit him. Annika suddenly finds herself in the desperate predicament of getting access to a hunky star actor and convincing him to come home with her. Piece of cake, right?
(2) Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse [Historical Fiction]
Amsterdam, 1943. Hanneke spends her days procuring and delivering sought-after black market goods to paying customers, her nights hiding the true nature of her work from her concerned parents, and every waking moment mourning her boyfriend, who was killed on the Dutch front lines when the Germans invaded. She likes to think of her illegal work as a small act of rebellion.
On a routine delivery, a client asks Hanneke for help. Expecting to hear that Mrs. Janssen wants meat or kerosene, Hanneke is shocked by the older woman’s frantic plea to find a person – a Jewish teenager Mrs. Janssen had been hiding, who has vanished without a trace from a secret room. Hanneke initially wants nothing to do with such dangerous work, but is ultimately drawn into a web of mysteries and stunning revelations that lead her into the heart of the resistance, open her eyes to the horrors of the Nazi war machine, and compel her to take desperate action.
(3) Dangerous Girls [Mystery]
It’s Spring Break of senior year. Anna, her boyfriend Tate, her best friend Elise, and a few other close friends are off on a debaucherous trip to Aruba that promises to be the time of their lives. But when Elise is found brutally murdered, Anna finds herself trapped in a country not her own, fighting against vile and contemptuous accusations.
As Anna sets out to find her friend’s killer, she discovers hard truths about her friendships, the slippery nature of truth, and the ache of young love.
As she awaits the judge’s decree, it becomes clear that everyone around her thinks she is not just guilty, but dangerous. When the truth comes out, it is more shocking than one could ever imagine…
📷 = @shaniasquires