Also published on this date: Shelf Awareness for Monday, May 6, 2013

Monday, May 6, 2013: Kids' Maximum Shelf: Gorgeous


Scholastic: Gorgeous by Paul Rudnick

Scholastic: Gorgeous by Paul Rudnick

Scholastic: Gorgeous by Paul Rudnick

Scholastic: Gorgeous by Paul Rudnick

Gorgeous

by Paul Rudnick

Paul Rudnick (I Shudder; the play I Hate Hamlet) makes a smashing YA debut with this novel about what truly makes someone beautiful, the doors that beauty opens and the responsibility that comes with opportunity.

On Becky Randle's 18th birthday, her 400-pound mother dies. "You have to promise me that--you won't be me," her mother had said before Becky left the house that morning. Her mother also added, "Something is going to happen to you, and it's going to be magical.... When the magic shows up--I want you to say yes."

Becky loved her mom. She'd loved watching celebrity TV shows with her, and reading magazines together. "No one could make the world seem sparkling and enchanted the way my mom could," Becky thinks. Three weeks after her mother's funeral, the sound of her mother's ringtone leads Becky to a phone number left inside a box marked "Tom Kelly"--the famous designer. It takes Becky a week to work up the courage to call the number, but when she does, a woman offers her a plane ticket to New York and $1,000. She asks her best friend, Rocher Bargemueller, what to do. "Becky," says Rocher (pronounced ro-SHARE; she's named for the chocolate), "we're checkout chicks, excuse me, Register Associates, at a supermarket [that's] probably gonna get shut down by the end of the month." Rocher offers a few more choice words. Becky leaves her trailer in East Trawley, Mo., and gets on a plane.

A chauffeur named Drake meets Becky at the airport and drives her to Kelly's  "compound." When the 30-ish, athletic-looking Tom stands up to meet her, it was "like he wanted me to get a good look at all of him, as a dare." The way he looks at Becky, "I felt like a rabbit being eyeballed by either a scientist with a syringe, or a master chef with a cleaver." By the end of the second chapter, readers know that Tom Kelly plucked Roberta Randle, Becky's mother, out of a crowd of schoolgirls when she was 16 and built her into an icon of fashion and beauty. So what happened to her mother? Becky needs to find out what made her mother turn her back on that life and who she was, and why she insisted Becky make that vow. She knows that Tom Kelly has the answers. So when he promises Becky that if she wears three dresses that he will make for her--one red, one white, one black--and does everything he says, she will become "the most beautiful woman who has ever lived," she agrees to his terms.

Gorgeous is an examination of who the real Becky is--beauty gains her access to other worlds, but she's not at ease in them. When she's alone, she looks like Becky, the girl from the East Trawley trailer park. But when at least one other person is with her, she's Rebecca, "the most beautiful woman who has ever lived," on the cover of magazines, starring in films, visiting a burn unit with the U.K.'s Prince Gregory. One of the most charming aspects of the novel is that even when Becky is Rebecca, she still observes the glamour and glory through the eyes of the girl from the Show-Me State: "I wondered if this was fame.... I felt adored, for absolutely no reason, and erased, by all of that sound and light and attention." Rudnick allows us to walk in Becky's shoes, whether she's Becky or Rebecca.

Rudnick perfectly captures that tug of wanting to remain young and without responsibility while being on the cusp of adulthood. Then Kelly foists a new rule upon Becky: she must marry within a year, or lose her enchantment. "That's ridiculous and it's not much time and it's not fair," she yells. His response could be applied to much more than beauty: "There's a clock attached to every beautiful woman. From the second she comes into her own, she begins to decline, because she begins to age. Aging is every beautiful woman's kryptonite. And so, yes, it's ridiculous and no, you don't have much time and, of course, it's not fair. Those three statements are the essence of beauty."

But even as she races against the clock, Rebecca also gets to meet Jate Mallow, whom she's wanted to marry since she was 11, and star in a film with him (the media call them Jatecca), attend the U.K.'s Ascot races with royalty and aristocrats (Rudnick's commentary on hats is not to be missed), and be the bane of every aspiring model's existence ("for the very first time, standing next to her, I'm the uggabug," says one). But Becky is smart enough to ask Rocher to join her, to keep her grounded and honest.

Rudnick's easy dialogue and comic timing mask the serious themes he introduces, until suddenly there they are: raw and exposed and taking readers by surprise. It's easy to laugh at the wit of Becky's observation, "Mirrors are more dangerous than guns or cars or crystal meth, because they're cheap, readily available, and everyone's addicted," until one stops to consider her mother's morbid obesity as a consequence of being at the pinnacle of idolatry.

Rudnick delivers a timely novel that will draw in teens with its razor-sharp one-liners and observations about our instantaneous wireless social commentary, and keep them planted in these pages until they find out who will win: Becky or Rebecca? At the heart of this novel is the central dilemma of becoming an adult--that as much as it seems like someone else is in charge, ultimately, you determine your own destiny. --Jennifer M. Brown

Scholastic, $18.99, hardcover, 320p., ages 14-up, 9780545464260

Scholastic: Gorgeous by Paul Rudnick


Paul Rudnick: Three Dresses and a Designer as Modern-Day Wizard

photo: Hat Head Studio

Paul Rudnick is best known for his plays (I Hate Hamlet; Jeffrey), screenplays (The Addams Family Values) and books for adults (I Shudder). Gorgeous is his first book for young people. He said it started with the notion of the three dresses and a designer as a modern-day wizard. "When I started writing in Becky's voice, that's when it started to flow," Rudnick said. "With so magic in [the novel], it's connected to someone who's as skeptical and delighted as any of the rest of us might feel in her situation."

Were there any surprises as you wrote for this audience? Did you find yourself pulling back on any themes?

Not for a second did I hold back. In The Addams Family, my favorite character was Wednesday Addams. She's so deadpan and has a wild imagination; there's such a freedom to her. Whenever I spoke with little girls, that's who they related to. [With Gorgeous,] I thought, if I can honestly write from the perspective of a teenage girl, the audience would find that appropriate. Teenage readers are very precise about their passions and their heroes, and sometimes their villains. No one can be more enthusiastic, and no one can feel more betrayed when that star does something they don't approve of.

How has playwriting informed the way you write dialogue in your novels?

I'm a big eavesdropper. Once you can find a character's personal style, the way they talk on the phone, then you've got them. You feel like you're taking dictation.

When you use dialogue, you can reveal characters without having to explain them. It's something I honed working in the theater. It's a real discipline because you've only got a couple of hours, and you want to do your best for your actors.

Do you have connections with the fashion industry?

I've always had a great interest in fashion, even clothes that I'd never wear or could never afford. My mom got Vogue; she was beautifully dressed and loved the fantasy aspect. My friend William Ivey Long has won five Tony Awards for costume design, and he's one of the most educated men I've ever met, not only on fashion but the history of fashion. He can make women look absolutely ravishing and confident. He also knows what they want to reveal, and what they'd rather not. Beyond that, I'm as much of an addict as anyone for People and Us, and we all become a great audience for the Oscars. It's like walking the plank when they step out on that red carpet. Now with the Internet, they know how merciless people can be. An 11-year-old knows the difference between Armani and Prada and Valentino, and the difference between ready-to-wear and couture. It's a wonderful thing to tap into because there's a shared archive and shared knowledge.

Did you base Tom Kelly on anyone in particular?

There are all sorts of confident designers, men and women, and Tom is a composite of them. They're very opinionated about how the rest of us should look. It can be maddening because they're so precise at all times. Whether Tom Ford or Donna Karan or Marc Jacobs, you have to have incredible taste, to be sure of your audience, be a few steps ahead, and also a great businessperson. Those figures always fascinate me because they can be so famous so quickly and fall so fast.

Becky's best friend, Rocher, also acts as a kind of truth detector.

The scene when Rocher tries on one of Rebecca's dresses. That's such a moment, when you're standing next to the person who's won the lottery. Why not me? It's a real test of friendship. Is it over because you can't keep up? Are you a hanger-on? Or are you more important than ever? Rocher's the voice of the most honest, sane, gut-busting truth.

There's so much humor and yet so much poignancy in the novel, too, not only with the isolation Rebecca feels, but the responsibility that beauty brings with it. How do you walk that line between humor and pathos?

The book was only going to be funny if it were deeply serious. There had to be real stakes. There's a lot of life and a lot of death. Becky's only 18, and that's such a tipping point in anyone's life. You can go wrong or you can find your way. I wanted it to have a serious undercurrent. Another inspiration was The Picture of Dorian Gray--what if someone got to remain beautiful and young forever? It's dangerous, and that book does not end well.

That's part of Becky's path--beauty is serious business. While appearances matter, there are aspects of someone's life that matter more. I wanted you to care passionately about Becky.

The mystery of Becky's mother's past drives the book in many ways. Was that frame for the novel there from the beginning?

The structure is a mother-daughter love story. It's so important for readers to know how much Becky loves her mother. She spends the rest of the book finding out about her mother's life, and that helps her understand her mother and appreciate her more fully. That's where the supernatural element comes in. When we lose someone, we all hope there'll be another moment of communication and affirmation in some way. By the end of the book, Becky and her mom know each other completely. --Jennifer M. Brown


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