by Donna Kauffman, contemporary (2005)
Bantam, $11.00, ISBN 0-553-38306-X
Sleeping With Beauty tells the story of a former high school outsider Lucy Harper who only wants to look beautiful and knock her former detractors off their feet in the upcoming ten-year high school reunion. Oh, and she also still has some dreams of catching the fancy of the high school jock Jason Prescott. She undergoes a program to change from an ugly duckling to a swan under the supervision of three eccentric matron-type biddies and catches Jason's eye... until she realizes that her best friend Grady Matthews may be the right man who has been right in front of her all these years.
I should love this book since I'm that person who cries at the end of that movie Never Been Kissed. But to be fair, Drew Barrymore's Josie Gellar was never as embarrassingly spineless and dignity-free as Lucy Harper is in this story. Seriously, some of the nonsense Jason puts Lucy through after they've met again as adults are ridiculous. No woman with self-respect will put up with even half of what Jason leads her through. He takes her for granted to a ridiculous degree and she lets him do that to her for so long that I find it hard to respect her, much less root for her.
Meanwhile, Sleeping Beauty is a disappointment in many other ways. The three women who run the makeover program turn out to be nags rather than colorful eccentrics. Grady is supposed to be this nerd but like Vicki Lewis Thompson's definition of "nerd", this guy has a flat stomach and looks hot. Guys in real life could only wish they are as nerdy as Grady. It is hard for the author to preach a message about beauty being more than skin deep when the hypocritical fact is that the main characters bearing this message are already beautiful. It's like Beyoncé Knowles telling women to be content with how they look because we all know she'll be squealing to be put under the knife if she weighs five hundred pounds.
But my goodness, Ms Kauffman lays down the message so hard and thick that I find myself wondering whether she's been reading too many PETA pamphlets or something while writing this book. Prior to Lucy turning into a doormat where Jason is concerned, everyone Lucy encounters, even the three makeover ladies, constantly and repetitiously question her whether she is doing the right thing for the right reasons. Seriously now, Lucy just wants to look good to knock the sneers off those catty bitches that made her life hell back in high school. It's probably a petty thing to do, but it's not something worth debating up a storm over. Heck, I'd do it if I were in her shoes.
Only Grady has the self-awareness to admit to himself that he is afraid that if Lucy realizes how beautiful she is, she'll join the cool kids and he may lose her as a friend. Everyone else is like, "Lucy! You are not being true to yourself! You are denying the real you by wanting to be a hot chick!" Give me break. Is Ms Kauffman trying to say that Lucy cannot be beautiful without selling herself out to the Mean Girls?
Of course, Lucy then proves them right by turning into a braindead nitwit once she catches up with Jason, ugh.
At the end of the day, Sleeping Beauty tells one too many contradictory PSA about the beauty myth for its own good. I wish Ms Kauffman will be content to write a story instead of trying so hard to assure plain girls everywhere that it's okay to be plain because that is the "real" them, especially when we know that this story will not happen if Grady embraces the "real" inner nerd and gets a gut from his constant pizza diet and sedentary lifestyle. With or without that really stupid heroine, this book is probably doomed from the start. Romance novels and politically correct messages about the beauty myth don't go well together.
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