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Paul Rudnick’s YA novel debut, GORGEOUS, deliciously blends Cinderella and The Ugly Ducking into a modern, salacious fairy tale that is a pure guilty pleasure read.
Becky Randle has lived in a trailer park in East Trawley, Missouri her entire life. Shackled with a morbidly obese mother and “nada special” to look at herself, Becky has learned to despise mirrors and considers them “more dangerous than guns or crystal meth, because they’re cheap, readily available, and everyone’s addicted.” She instead experiences life through gossip magazines and TV sitcoms and pretends not to care that her classmates dubbed her an “uggabug.” But all of this changes when Becky’s mother dies unexpectedly, and Becky discovers a slip of paper with a mysterious phone number on it. The number belongs to Tom Kelly, the top designer in the world (think Calvin Klein.) “Tom Kelly was like sugar, or TV or God. He wasn’t a man, he was a thing, and he’d always been there.” Upon calling the number, Becky is whisked off to NYC, where she learns that not only did Tom Kelly know her mother but that her mother was once famously gorgeous and the face of the Tom Kelly ad campaign. Tom Kelly wants to do the same for Becky, and he makes her the offer of a lifetime.

"Rudnick has created a sinfully fun read about coming to terms with the person we see in the mirror every day and realizing that even movie stars and super models can be just as hormonal, insecure and self-conscious as teenagers."

He will create three dresses for her (one red, one white and one black), which will transform her into the most beautiful woman in the whole world. Like stop-in-the-middle-of-the-street-and-stare beautiful; possibly-get-hit-by-a-car-and-not-care-because-she’s-so-gorgeous beautiful. What’s the catch? Becky has to fall in love and get married within a year to stay beautiful, and this beauty only exists in the eyes of other; when Becky looks in the mirror alone she sees her true self.

With some trepidation, Becky accepts Tom’s offer and once she puts on her first red dress, she becomes Rebecca Randle, “the most beautiful woman who has ever lived.” Rudnick’s hilarious wit, as he describes Rebecca’s rise to stardom, will have you rolling on the floor laughing. My favorite description compared Rebecca’s beauty to “the birth of the baby Jesus if Jesus had been the world’s first super model.” Soon, Rebecca is on the cover of Vogue and starring in a movie alongside Jate Mallow --- a Justin Timberlake/Brad Pitt/Bieber King all rolled into one secretly gay package.

Being famously beautiful isn’t enough for Becky though, she wants the biggest life she can get, and she wants to use her beauty and celebrity to change the world and help people. With true teenage arrogance and determination, she decides that the only way to do this is by marrying Prince Gregory of England and becoming a royal like Princess Diana. Rudnick’s Prince Gregory is everything the American teenager wished Prince William would be: witty, outspoken, self-deprecating and handsome, with none of that English reserve. With the help of her fellow Super Shop-a-Lot co-worker and best friend, Rocher (like the chocolate, but pronounced Ro-share,) Becky sets out to win Prince Gregory’s heart. But when she falls in love herself, Becky cannot help but wonder, who does Gregory really love? Rebecca, the woman everyone adores on sight, or Becky, the insecure but perceptive and funny girl from East Trawley? And when Tom Kelly turns Becky back into a pumpkin, Gregory asks her the one question that she cannot answer, “Who are you?”

Fans of Meg Cabot and Libba Bray’s BEAUTY QUEENS will love this satire on everything Americans hold dear, from fairy tales and fashion to Hollywood and English royalty; nothing escapes Paul Rudnick’s scathing wit. Becky, like so many teenagers, is trying to figure out who she really is, beginning with discovering who her parents were and ultimately questioning whether beauty and fame really do lead to happiness. Often utterly over the top and ridiculous, this novel  is compulsively readable; it’s like watching “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” or reading Vogue, sometimes you hate it, but you cannot look away or stop reading.

Rudnick is an extremely descriptive writer and I feel that the book could have benefited from an editor that was a little more liberal with the red pen. Many times the dialogue and plot were lost underneath loads of adjectives and hyphenated run on sentences. Despite the fact that the book is written entirely in the first person and told from Becky’s point of view, the tone is not that of a teenage girl. While this is a satire and is meant to be cynical and mocking, there’s a distinctive lack of emotion in the characters throughout, which I found disappointing. You don’t necessarily feel or experience Becky and Gregory falling in love, but because it’s a retelling of a fairy tale, you’re supposed to just accept that they obviously are meant to be together.

All in all though, Rudnick has created a sinfully fun read about coming to terms with the person we see in the mirror every day and realizing that even movie stars and super models can be just as hormonal, insecure and self-conscious as teenagers.

Reviewed by Alice Dalrymple on April 26, 2013

by Paul Rudnick

  • Publication Date: April 30, 2013
  • Genres: Fiction, Young Adult 14+
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press
  • ISBN-10: 0545464269
  • ISBN-13: 9780545464260