Positively Beautiful by Wendy Mills ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: March 3, 2015
Publisher: Bloomsbury Kids
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: cancer, best friends, planes
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. (Thanks!)
Summary: As if her mom having breast cancer isn’t hard enough, Erin finds out that she may have inherited a rare gene mutation (like her mom did from her grandmother) and she could have cancer too. Does she find out the truth now or does she forget this is even a possibility for now?
Last Friday, Angelina Jolie wrote an op-ed for the New York Times, sharing her decision to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes. As the carrier of the BRCA1 gene mutation, Jolie believed going through with this procedure (and, therefore, speeding along menopause) was the right decision for her — especially knowing that her grandmother, aunt, and mom all died of cancer very young. In her piece, Jolie urges women to know all of their options and emphasizes that everyone needs to choose their own path, but also makes sure we know: “Knowledge in power.”
This leads me to Erin in Positively Beautiful. Not only is she going through the motions of being a normal teenager (a mysterious boy from her class, a great best friend who starts ignoring her for a new boy, missing her dad, learning a new skill), she finds out that her mother has breast cancer and she could be a carrier of the gene mutation. Does she take the test and find out? Or does she forget about it? As you can imagine, it’s difficult to just ignore something this huge, this life altering, and Erin finds herself depending on online support from others in the same boat — most specifically, Ashley, a girl in Florida who is always trying to convince Erin to smell the roses and experience all the beauty there is in the world — especially when life seems so hopeless.
Wendy Mills has crafted a unique story here. I loved that Erin decided to take flying lessons. The late night, abandoned building adventures she took with her best friend and boys from school. Even the growing pains that Erin experienced with Trina, her lifelong best friend, when she landed a guy who finally appreciated her. To be in this position, with her mom sick and a mysterious cloud possibly hanging over her head, Erin is caught between the life of a typical teenager and a girl forced to grow up way too fast, forced to make decisions that could affect her entire life.
Shocker: we don’t always know what to do when life gets this out of hand. I won’t say Erin gets a get out of jail free card but she certainly takes an unexpected detour Survivor-style — granting her a respite — for a little bit anyway. She might be overwhelmed but she’s not silly enough to think she can escape her problems forever. Instead, supports shift and she returns to real life recharged and as ready as she will ever be to face the unknown.
While I personally may have turned down the drama in the high school aspect of this book, I thought it was great how Positively Beautiful shed light on a subject we don’t see much in young adult literature — without being preachy. It’s a book that definitely marches to its own drummer, and that’s exactly why I couldn’t read fast enough and sat in one spot until I reached the end. (Warning: tissues are not an option.)