Review posted July 21, 2013.
Scholastic Press, New York, 2013. 327 pages.
Here’s a light-hearted and upbeat modern fairy tale, with sly jabs at the fashion industry, celebrity culture, and popularity.
Becky Randle’s mom doesn’t go out much. She weighs almost 400 pounds and seems afraid of life. But Becky loves her fiercely.
However, on Becky’s eighteenth birthday, her mom dies and leaves Becky a phone number. When she calls the number, she’s offered a thousand dollars and a plane ticket to New York.
In New York, she’s offered a bargain from the mysterious and glamorous designer Tom Kelly.
“Let’s talk about you,” he said. “You’re eighteen years old, you’ve finished high school and you couldn’t be more ordinary. Yes, you have the tiniest hint of your mother, but don’t kid yourself. You’re nothing. You’re no one. And you look like – anyone. You don’t exist.”
I knew I should punch him or shoot him or at least disagree but I couldn’t, for one simple reason. He was right.
“So here’s my offer,” he said, sitting up straight, as if he was about to conduct serious business. “I will make you three dresses: one red, one white, and one black. And if you wear these dresses, and if you do everything I say, then you will become the most beautiful woman on earth. You will become, in fact, the most beautiful woman who has ever lived.”
She decides to try his offer. She gets poked and prodded and measured by an entire crew of people, including makers of handmade shoes, custom jewelry, and truly one-of-a-kind perfume. I love the part where they take a blood sample:
“This is couture,” explained Mrs. Chen, depositing the spool in a test tube. “Every garment will be custom made, only for you. You will become a part of each dress.”
When the first dress, a red one, is finally ready, Tom Kelly takes Becky out to a gala.
We passed a large framed poster, under glass, announcing the schedule for upcoming operas and concerts, and I was inches away from the glimmering reflection of a woman who was not only unthinkably beautiful, but at ease with herself and entertained by my gaping. And that was when I first suspected that the reflection, and the woman, and the miracle, might be me.
My instantaneous response was a screaming brainload of panic. I pulled my arm away from Tom and I ran down the nearest available hallway, to the ladies’ room.
Looking in the ladies’ room mirror, she sees her old self. But when someone else walks in, her reflection again shows Rebecca Randle, the most beautiful woman in the world.
And then Tom Kelly adds the kicker, another fairy-tale element:
”By the way,” said Tom Kelly; he was leaning into the room with both hands braced against the door frame, like a warm-hearted Christmas Eve dad, checking that I was tucked in and that sweet dreams were on their way.
“I should mention something. You have one year to fall in love and get married. One year, or all of this, by which I mean Rebecca, all of it disappears forever.”
So, Becky’s adventures begin as the most beautiful woman who’s ever lived. I love her sense of humor about it, as well as her friendship with the down-to-earth Rocher, from back home. She meets the teen heartthrob she’s had a crush on since childhood (Turns out, he’s gay.) and gets to star in a movie with him. She meets royalty and other celebrities. Who is she, really, under that astoundingly beautiful exterior? Is Rebecca Randle, most beautiful woman in the world, a real person at all?
The book has an unexpected but completely satisfying ending. The last paragraph is one of my favorites ever and made me laugh out loud.
Oh, and the author has mastered the art of chapter endings that make you want to keep reading. If you don’t want to spend half the night reading this book, let me give you a hint: stop in the middle of a chapter! I didn’t, and was sorry the next day.
For a modern fairy tale about beauty and identity, with plenty of humor along the way, try Gorgeous, by Paul Rudnick.