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In two previous novels, Rachel Vail has explored the ups and downs of Avery sisters Phoebe (in LUCKY) and Allison (in GORGEOUS). Now, in her third and final book about this family in crisis, Vail turns her attention to oldest sister Quinn.

Quinn is the mature one, the responsible one, the one her mother chooses as a confidante and her sisters choose as a role model ("the one who handles things well and doesn't curse"). She gets good grades, has nice friends (even if they're a bit nerdy and their idea of a good time is watching a “West Wing” marathon), and has landed the perfect resume-building job for the summer before junior year. She'll be a counselor at a day camp for underprivileged kids, a job not without its ironies: "Like all the other counselors…I am (or at least have been) overprivileged, and this job, while fulfilling on its own merits, was also designed, not just coincidentally, to help me get into an elite college eventually, so that I could continue on my overprivileged path."

The trouble is, Quinn and her family aren't feeling quite so overprivileged anymore. Quinn's mom, formerly the breadwinner, has lost her high-powered job amid a financial mismanagement scandal. And, in turn, the Avery family has lost its staff, its home, even many of its most valuable possessions, including the piano Quinn loves, not least because it gives her a connection with her teacher's son, Oliver, on whom she's had a crush forever. Quinn is confused, angry, and more than a little resentful toward her mom. So it's no real surprise that good-girl Quinn, the brilliant one in the family, starts making some really stupid choices.

First, she steals a pair of her mom's fabulous (and fabulously expensive) high-heeled shoes. Then she gets a bit too close to her little sister's boyfriend. Meanwhile, she's enjoying the attention of a beautiful camp counselor, who promises to hook her up with a guy rumored to be a bad boy, who normally would be way out of her league. But, as Quinn discovers, breaking free from expectations isn't always that simple: "Once a girl has crawled out of her usual box," Quinn reflects, "it is so hard for her to fit herself back into it. But a girl not in a box of any kind, it's sort of like being a turtle who shrugs free of her shell, right? How bad a plan is that? Where the heck do I find a new exoskeleton if I'm shedding the old one?"

Much like her sisters in their respective books (not to mention her parents, who are also in upheaval), Quinn's major hurdle is trying to define what her life means in the wake of the major turmoil happening in her family. High school is complicated enough, but for her, these complications are confounded by her desire to do the right thing and her realization that she might not have any idea what the "right" thing is.

BRILLIANT is also noteworthy because of its complex portrayal of Quinn's evolving relationship with her mother. Often in YA novels, parents serve as minor supporting characters at best (when they're even on the scene at all). Here, however, a major plot point is Quinn's growing awareness of her mother as a person --- a deeply flawed, beautiful and proud but sometimes thoughtless person --- apart from her role as a parent.

Quinn's newly mature awareness of herself as part of --- and apart from --- her rapidly changing family is the real outcome of her personal crisis. And despite some bumpy patches in her journey, it appears that, in the long run, Quinn is going to do an absolutely brilliant job of growing up.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on May 25, 2010

by Rachel Vail

  • Publication Date: April 26, 2011
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: HarperTeen
  • ISBN-10: 0060890517
  • ISBN-13: 9780060890513