Magan: Can’t Look Away by Donna Cooner

book review for Can't Look Away by Donna CoonerCan’t Look Away by Donna Cooner
See Also: Skinny by Donna Cooner
Publication Date: August 26, 2014
Publisher: Point
Pages: 272
Target Audience: Young Adult Fiction
Keywords: beauty and fashion vlogger, loss of a sibling, moving to a new state
Format Read: Arc received from the Publisher. (Thank you!)

Summary: Torrey, popular fashion and beauty vlogger, doesn’t know how to deal with the sudden harassment and criticism she receives from her followers after the death of her younger sister. Her family moves from Colorado to Texas to be closer to family, and Torrey has to figure out how to mourn her sister and move on.

Almost exactly two years ago, I raved about Donna Cooner’s Skinny, a book about a girl who undergoes gastric bypass surgery and deals with insecurities and body image issues, even though her physical appearance is changing. I really connected with Ever and felt super pumped to read Donna’s newest book, Can’t Look Away, about Torrey Grey, who is a popular beauty and fashion vlogger. The scenarios are almost completely reversed — Ever is a girl who had zero self-confidence and had to work really hard to accept and love herself. Torrey is popular and extremely well-known, but when her 12-year old sister is killed by a drunk driver, her character is questioned and she’s criticized for detaching and not addressing what’s happening.

But ultimately, the lesson is still the same for both Ever and Torrey: despite fame, beauty, body size, popularity, vlog views, etc., both girls have to learn to love and accept themselves despite any of those other outside factors.

Torrey was a more difficult character for me to relate to because her every move seemed calculated: How do I promote myself? How will everyone react to xyz? What can I do to gain more views and recognition? Believe me when I say I could relate to those feelings because I’ve dealt with that with my businesses and with Rather Be Reading. You pour so much of yourself into these projects and want people to love and appreciate it as much as you do. I think I’m in a personal place of wanting to be a blogger and a business owner, but also not wanting my entire life to be only those things. And that’s what I wanted for Torrey.

I wanted to see her mourn her sister and stop worrying about how to connect to the internet to see what people were saying about her. I wanted her comments to not be so snippy with her cousin, Raylene, who was trying desperately to forge a friendship with her. I wanted Torrey to not care quite so much about sitting at the popular table at her new school. Oh, and that boy she liked, Luis? I wanted to shout, “JUST GO FOR IT! Who cares if he’s “unpopular”!” Torrey had a lot of growing up to do, but I think one thing stands out. Sometimes when we’re in the midst of something deep, hard, and heavy, we find distractions to focus on. We fill our time with the mundane details so we can cast aside all of the hurt we don’t want to deal with.

In a nutshell, that was Torrey. It was easier for her to focus on being the girl she used to be instead of letting it sink in all the ways her life would now be changed without her sister. The growth does happen, but I wanted to see it happen a little less rapidly. And what about her parents? They were on the periphery of the story and we saw how they dealt (or didn’t deal well with their grief), but I felt there should have been a little more involvement with helping Torrey overcome her obstacles. She deals with Internet bullying and moving to a completely new state, and the death of her sister all by herself.

Can’t Look Away is so pertinent and has some really valid points and lessons. I, always the proponent for loose ends to be tied as much as possible, wish there were a few moments that felt a little more ironed out, but overall, this is another great contemporary by Cooner. Definitely looking forward to more!

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Estelle: Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg

Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth EulbergRevenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: March 1, 2013
Publisher: Point
Pages: 265
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: divorced parents, siblings, beauty pageants
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley (Thanks!)

Summary: With her younger sister constantly competing in beauty pagaents, high schooler Lexi is used to being in the shadows. She’s Mac’s seamstress, her mom’s gopher, and, always always, the girl with the great personality. She’s losing patience as she watches her mom’s health decline, the bills pile up, and how the guy she has always crushed on will never see her as more than a friend. When one of her best friends challenges her to spend a little more time on her appearance and come out of her shell, will Lexi enjoy life in the limelight too?

My awesome baby-sitting skills have become sort of a running joke in my family. My sister even mentioned them in her maid of honor speech at my wedding. My name is Estelle and I used to tie my sister to a chair in front of the television. For the record, it wasn’t because she was a snot to me. She just would not sit still. And hey, she turned out okay? So really, this was not traumatic at all.

A few pages into Elizabeth Eulberg’s new book and let me tell you, my sister was a saint compared to Mac. While my sister and I are five years apart, Lexi and Mac have a staggering 9 years between them and their upbringing couldn’t be more different. Even though Lexi’s parents fought a ton, she was brought up with two parents. Upon Mac’s arrival, Dad peaces out and Mom decides to bond with her youngest by signing her up for beauty pageants. And, hence, Mac the brat is born.

So not only is Lexi reeling from her parent’s divorce (still), she is forced into assisting with all the details of Mac’s pageants too. It’s not often that we have a character who is cast in the shadow of her younger sibling, and I liked this change. The age gap between the two is so apparent, especially when Lexi sees that their mom is spending ALL their money on this obsession (even after Mac can’t win back their entry fee many times). But Lexi’s mom doesn’t want to hear it. I was appalled (APPALLED) by how she dismissed Lexi’s worries and continually accused her of being jealous of Mac.

Luckily, Lexi has some great best friends to turn to. (The kind of friends that always make me miss high school.) Cam and Benny are very supportive, awesome people and I love that Benny convinces Lexi to show the world what she is made of. They both challenge each other to dive into something new: Benny is going to ask out a boy he likes (he’s gay but not completely “out”) and Lexi is going to primp and polish her appearance and see herself as beautiful for once.

In some ways, this plan soars and, in others, it backfires. Mac sees Lexi as competition, and becomes even more of a whiny brat (if possible). But, on the other hand, Lexi starts to be more social with her peers and even gets to go on her first date with the adorable Taylor. (Even though she can’t stop thinking about Logan, who has a girlfriend and never looks at her like that.) While I know a makeover is not the answer to esteem issues, I do like the way it helped Lexi build her confidence and figure out how she wanted to present herself to the world.

But, at the heart of this book are some deep, intense family issues and I applaud Eulberg for giving a lot more depth to her storylines and characters this time around. (This was one of my reservations with Take a Bow.) Lexi and Mac’s mom was so resistant to her daughters’ pleas to change their life for the better. Their mom was severely obese, and goes to some disgusting lows to keep the appearance of their “beauty pageant” life going. In the end, though, this storyline seemed to suffer with a quick ending and not enough resolution. I’m not sure their mom was capable of being a good mom. She was emotionally and physically unhealthy, unwilling to see her family for what it really was, and used the pageants as a distraction from reality. I finished the book still worrying about the well-being of both girls. (Especially for Mac, who wasn’t lucky enough to have college to escape to.)

While The Lonely Hearts Club still holds my heart as far as Eulberg’s work goes, I was really pleased to see growth in both plot and characterization in Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality. The author brings up some great points when it comes to appearance and the strength it takes to be honest (especially when others don’t want to hear it). While Lexi has a few more opportunities than the average person to tell it like it is in a public forum, I respected her for her patience, honesty, logic, and willingness to try new things.

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