Friday, January 11, 2013

My Life in Black & White by Natasha Friend

Description: What if you lost the thing that made you who you are?

My Life in Black and WhiteLexi has always been stunning. Her butter-coloured hair and perfect features have helped her attract friends, a boyfriend, and the attention of a modelling scout. But everything changes the night Lexi's face goes through a windshield. Now she's not sure what's worse: the scars she'll have to live with forever, or what she saw going on between her best friend and her boyfriend right before the accident. With the help of her trombone-playing, defiantly uncool older sister and a guy at school recovering from his own recent trauma, Lexi learns she's much more than just a pretty face. Goodreads description

Stats: Young Adult, 294 pages, First published by Viking Juvenile, June 2012.
My Rating: 3.3333 Stars
Disclaimer: My copy of My Life in Black & White is an ARC won from a Razorbill monthly giveaway.   

"My life is over. It's the kind of pronouncement teenage girls make every day. They say it after such traumatic events as, say, farting out loud in gym class, or discovering they've gained three pounds at Christmas and can't fit in their winter formal dress. Oh my God, you guys! My life is over! Then they bawl to their girlfriends, eat a bunch of Oreos  and move on. But this was different." 
- ARC page 14

Lexi has everything she could ever want. Great beauty, a great best friend, a great boyfriend, and a great social life. But when she wakes up in the hospital after a terrible car crash Lexi not only has to face the reality of the life she doesn't think she can return to, she also has to face her face. 

Initially, although the description of My Life in Black & White sounded interesting, I wasn't completely sold. This is a transformation book. It's a bit different then your average coming-of-age story because it's more about a complete change in perception. This sort of story can easily go wrong, especially when the main character is a popular girl. Popular girls don't have the best track record in fiction. There is a certain amount of tedium in asking me to have sympathy towards a person who I'm jealous of. I'm fully willing to admit that I would have loved to have Lexi's life at her age and it bothers me in the fictional world (in the same way it bothers me in the real world) when people have humble-brag complaints. Thankfully, in My Life in Black & White things are different. 

What saves it is that Lexi is a well written character. You can see her motivations and you can tell exactly how why she has her personality within her family dynamic and within her friend group.  She feels realistic, instead of the exaggerated popular girls we're so used to seeing. She's not bitchy, she's not bragging, she's a perfectly average girl who just happens to have a social life. It's unfortunate that her friend group didn't fare as well in dodging the stereotypes of popularity, but the developments with the character Heidi makes me more willing to forgive that it all worked within the story. 

But this is more then just a book about high school. The story is really about Lexi's emotional struggle after she needs facial re-constructive surgery and feels betrayed by her best friend. Through this the book discusses the complexity of friendship and family, as well as beauty. I was impressed by the emphasis on relationships and how they evolve when you're thrown a curve ball, or in Lexi's case, thrown through a windshield.  

I quickly became very invested in Lexi. When she has to deal with feeling like she's no longer the person she used to be she is faced with a crisis. The story is about how she bounces back from this. When it comes to her "deformity" it's not as extreme as I thought it was going to be. She seems to have faired pretty well with her injuries, but the most notable thing for her is a skin graft on her cheek. They had to take skin from her butt in order to reconstruct her face, giving her the benefit of having a "butt face". 

However, I wish Natasha Friend had taken the extent of Lexi's physical transformation a little bit further. There is a lot of talk about her skin graft, but from as far as I can tell it is not the deformity she makes it out to be. Lexi's reconstruction is never described with enough detail to give me a good picture of what has changed in her appearance. Whenever doctors are telling her what happened Lexi just tunes them out. This saves our author from having to write a lot of boring medical jargon, but I never got a good understand of what happened. After her swelling and bruising has reduced the only person her injury seemed to bother is her. This doesn't lessen any of her emotional distress, but it does make her come off as a bit of a moaner.

This brings me to my central complaint with the book. It felt like it was missing something while other parts felt unnecessary.  

Lexi very well could have died, but that fact is never examined. Lexi doesn't seriously think about it, at all. I feel like that is not only a missed opportunity, but a grave error in the emotional process. I was looking for more introspection and less of her thinking about her ex-boyfriend. 

After her accident Lexi has to readjust to life as she knows it, there's a lot for her to possibly confront, and then BAM cute boy enters stage left. I was pretty into Theo when he's first introduced, but soon after he appears the story seems to take a detour in order to accommodate him and give him a "meaningful" role. Up till that point Lexi had been progressing in a nice arc, but then she ends up going in a seemingly random direction. I couldn't help but ask myself what the point of it was. Theo's appearance and subsequence story line involving his sister completely overshadowed the amazing potential of the already in motion storylines of both Heidi and Lexi's BFF, Taylor.    

“Well, you're not [fat]. You have, like, the ideal balance of fat and muscle. ...If I were a cannibal, I'd eat you.” 

My Life in Black & White fell short for me in many respects, but I do think this is a good book. I can complain about misused potential, but the story that Natasha Friend delivers is interesting and engaging just as it is. I had low expectations coming into this, but I'm happy with how things turned out. As far as transformative YA goes My Life in Black & White is a winner. 

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