More than just a pretty face

Pretty Face by Mary HoganPretty Face by Mary Hogan
Publisher: HarperTeen
Number of pages: 213
My copy: borrowed

That’s what I am. A funny girl. A friend. Nobody’s girlfriend. The girl with the pretty face.

Hayley wishes she could love living in Santa Monica, blocks from the beach, where every day—and everybody—is beautiful and sunny. But she just doesn’t fit in with all the blond, superskinny Southern California girls who have their plastic surgeons on speed dial. Hayley is smart and witty and has such a pretty . . . face. Translation: Don’t even think about putting on a bikini, much less dating superhot Drew Wyler. A bikini will never be flattering, and Drew will never think of her as more than a friend.

Just when Hayley feels doomed to live her life in the fat lane, her parents decide to send her to Italy for the summer—not for school, not for fat camp, just for fun. It’s there, under the Italian sun, that Hayley’s vision of herself starts to change. She’s curvy, not fat. Pizza isn’t evil. And life is so much more than one-size-fits-all. Who knows? Once Hayley sees herself in a new light, maybe the girl with the pretty face will finally find true amore.

* * *

I used to be fat. I won’t sugarcoat it: I was fat. I wasn’t obese, but I was about 40 lbs overweight. See for yourself:

I tried not to mind my being overweight, and try to follow those “love yourself” mantras to make me feel good about myself. No one exactly called me fat to my face, but people joked about it at times, and I often laughed it off. But I knew for myself that I wasn’t thin, and I hated shopping for clothes because I knew I would always have to ask for Large or Extra Large and not all the clothes I want look good on me. I didn’t hate myself for it, but I hated that I wasn’t doing anything about it, at least up until July 2009. That was when I joined the gym, paid a lot for my training fees, and finally started to lose weight properly, through diet, exercise and reading about health stuff (including how to reduce belly fat, which I am still struggling with).

The weight and self-esteem angle was one reason why I picked up Pretty Face. I always liked books that helped protagonists discover their true beauty, just like North of Beautiful. I thought Pretty Face would be like this, but I was kind of disappointed.

People always say Hayley had a pretty face, but it was all they tell her. Hayley knew she was fat, and it didn’t help that her mother kept on giving her grief about her weight after losing much of her own. It also didn’t help that she found out who her crush Drew Wyler really liked and it wasn’t her. After one bad day joining her mother at a weight-loss specialist (?) office, her parents told her that they’d be sending her to Italy for the summer to have some time off. In Italy, Hayley finds an entirely different lifestyle that she gets used to, and she finds herself loving food, herself and even finding a guy who loves her for who she is.

I really wanted to like this novel, but I ended up having too many issues with the story, and how Hayley’s insecurities were dealt with. Spoiler warning starts here.

First off, Italy. It’s not that sending Hayley off to a foreign place is bad — it’s a good way to shake things up in the novel. I was willing to forgive the fact that her parents approved of her going on her own for an entire summer — suspension of disbelief — even if she was only sixteen, seventeen? I didn’t like how the entire Italian experience was treated towards the end of the novel. It’s like Hayley’s trip to Italy was her Biggest Loser moment. Once there, it was easy to change herself, to change what she thought, to exercise, to feel good about herself. But in the end, Italy is not her real world, and she would have to go back to Santa Monica and start making positive changes for herself, because of what she learned in Italy. I didn’t see that. More accurately, I didn’t see that much because the last few chapters didn’t give me a chance to see how the changes in Italy affected Hayley’s life when she got home, because Hayley was more focused on the things she missed from the place. I understood that she missed the place — I would, too — but dwelling on that alone shouldn’t be the point of the story. Which brings me to the next issue…

Enzo. Don’t get me wrong — I like the idea of meeting a hot Italian guy and the idea of romance. Plus Enzo seemed really sweet and nice. But I wonder why it took so darn long for Hayley to see Enzo again after the first encounter. It took what, thirty chapters to get them talking to each other? And after they saw each other, and hung out once or twice, Hayley knew she was in love and she goes and have sex with him? My values were screaming “No no no no no no!!!” as I was reading. I know their culture is different from mine, but how do you know that Enzo is not some kind of psycho? Instead of focusing on the changes that Hayley could do for her life at the end of the novel, it focused on missing Enzo, and long distance relationships and all that. I’m confused. I thought this was a novel about self-image?

In the end, this novel just didn’t work for me. I know how it felt to be fat, and I know how it feels to be frustrated that no one likes you. I could identify with Hayley for a while, but I just don’t agree with the plot and the resolution of the story. The only saving grace of this novel is the descriptions of Italy, and Hayley’s quips which were funny and witty. Aside from that, Pretty Face pretty much fell short.

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