Beautiful by Cindy Martinusen-Coloma

Beautiful: Truth’s Found When Beauty’s Lost, by Cindy Martinusen-Coloma.  Thomas Nelson, 2009, 272 pages.

Reading Level: Young Adult, ages 12-15

Maturity Level: 5 (ages 12-14) and up

Bottom Line: Beautiful thoughtfully explores the effect of a disfiguring accident on an overachieving teen, but comes to no final conclusion about truth.

Ellie Summerfield is the iconic high-school good girl: overachieving, daytimer-driven, service-oriented, kind, smart–and beautiful.  Until an accident scars her face.  That happens on page 67 of a 272-page novel, so the rest is concerned with Ellie’s return to equilibrium.  Will she graduate?  Will she even go back to school?  Will she emerge from this experience a better person, or sink into bitterness like her grandfather?  We can already guess the answer to that last question, but the process is fairly realistic and well done.  Ellie makes some unpleasant discoveries about herself, i.e., she’s not as pretty inside as out, and not very loving to the people who love her most.  Her faith was a shaky structure that comes crashing down at the first serious challenge.

That opens the question of what kind of faith it was.  She and her parents are churchgoers, but the ‘rents are never fleshed out and the youth pastor only makes brief appearances that don’t amount to much; no help there.  The only real help comes from her peers, such as Megan, her slightly-older sister, and Will, the boy next door–both of whom are counter-cultural and rebellious enough to be challenging.  But they’re not Christians, even though Megan is thinking more seriously about God toward the end.  Then there’s Ellie’s boyfriend Ryan, who remains amazingly faithful, in spite of her breaking up with him.  “You know what I figured out, Els?  Everybody is disfigured in some way or other . . . in some people we see it immediately in their faces or bodies.  But everyone has broken places.  Just like everyone has beautiful places.  You’ll use your scars and your beauty for the purpose God made you for.”  This shows some inner strength, but we don’t get to see where it came from.  I suspect Thomas Nelson is hoping for some crossover appeal for this novel, and it does raise interesting questions while leaving the reader to grapple with them.  In a Christian novel, shouldn’t there be some mention of Christ?  That might be another good discussion question.

Cautions: none

Overall rating: 4 (out of 5)

  • Worldview/morality value: 3.5
  • Artistic value: 4

Categories: Realistic Fiction, Christian, Young Adult, Life Issues





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4 Responses to Beautiful by Cindy Martinusen-Coloma

  1. Janie May 11, 2011 at 7:51 am #

    I’ve heard of R.J. Anderson but haven’t had an opportunity to read her books yet. Thanks for the tip–I will definitely check her out!

  2. emily May 11, 2011 at 7:44 am #

    Rather, I should say that while it has trickled down to kids’ lit, it may not take the same radical forms. I see a lot of the paranormal interest and the desire to dismantle the timeline of storytelling as related to this. But for all our rage, I think the basic literary method is still intact.

  3. emily May 11, 2011 at 7:39 am #

    You raise so many good questions here, Janie. I think you sum up the conventions of literature in the last hundred years really well, although I think the secular mind is much more open to an allegorical approach to fiction these days–to an ordering of the characters’ lives by Deus ex Machina or something outside of the existential experiences of the characters themselves. It may not last, and it may not trickle down to kids’ lit, but I think postmoderns are feeling the constraints of realistic fiction and pushing against it.

  4. Brandy May 10, 2011 at 6:37 pm #

    I have enjoyed reading these two posts. I especially like the last two paragraphs of this one and agree with you wholeheartedly. I was wondering if you had ever read R.J. Anderson’s books? She is a Christian writer but is published in the secular market. I love her books and what she does with her characters.

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