When Riley Rose is caught by the police after breaking into a swimming pool with her friends, her father and stepmother decide they have had enough. Whilst they go on holiday, firmly atheist Riley is left at the Spirit Ranch – a Christian summer camp. Without her mobile phone or best friend Chloe, she is determined to hate it from the start, deciding that she will be the Plague, glamourous, controversial and definitely not there to make any friends. She finds it easy to hate the vain Fleur, who asks Riley how much she weighs on their first meeting – but finds herself rescuing Olive from bullies and admired by shy Sarita. Then there’s beautiful Craig, and mysterious fellow angry-misfit Dylan, a camp regular who arrived this time in a wheelchair. Her own curiosity and kindness eventually start to get the better of her bad intentions.
I think Everything Beautifulis great. I’ve read it twice now and was just as gripped through the second time. I read Everything Beautiful for the first time a couple of weeks after reading Notes from the Teenage Underground, and so I’m not sure whether my inability to decide which one was my favourite comes from reading them so close together. They are actually very different kinds of stories, they are both comings-of-age but Everything Beautiful is less cultural reference-laden than Notes, and I think the plot is more straightforward.
Riley is a believer in the ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ and ‘they’ll stare anyway, give them something to look at’ schools of thought, modelling herself after her ‘over-dramatic’ late mother and Chloe. She dresses to stand out and express herself, in gothic lolita outfits, with her asymmetric hair dyed Ultra Violet. Riley takes pride in being a confident ‘big girl’, although it is clear to the reader that she’s actually not all that confident in the way she looks, when some of the other kids try to tease her she is offended rather than unconcerned.
Dylan is determined to appear tough and rebellious despite being in a wheelchair, making a big deal out of the pills he has to take and getting drunk and smoking. He lets his emotions come to the surface more than Riley does, avoiding people who used to be his friends because of the way they treat him now. They both care about other people more than they’d like to.
I’d recommend Everything Beautiful to everyone who likes to read about weird unpopular rebels! It’s a particularly good summer read, I think, but then I read it for the first time in July 2009 and read it again in June 2010. I suggest you read it during those days when it’s too hot to do anything else, or raining but still warm.
Click to read a review at Books, Time, and Silence that really puts mine to shame.
There is a discussion about the covers of Everything Beautiful at Once Upon a Bookcase.