Gorgeous by Paul Rudnick

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Gorgeous by Paul Rudnick ISBN: 9780545464260

Plot Summary: Becky’s overweight mother has just passed away. She’s just graduated from high school and is working as a cashier, wondering if this is how her life will go. Then she gets a mysterious phone call from a famous fashion designer with a very tempting offer. He says he knew Becky’s mother and will make Becky three dresses that will instantly transform her into the most beautiful woman in the world. Becky knows she’s rather plain looking, but this sounds fishy. Indeed, there is a catch. She must get married within a year, or lose it all. Enter a heartthrob movie star, and a humanitarian prince and a whole lot of experiences Becky has never had. But Becky can’t shake the nagging feeling that all the attention is undeserved, and that if anyone knew who she really was, this would all go away.

Critical Evaluation: The theme and imagery of this book seem to be the strongest elements to me. Initially, the theme is somewhat hidden behind biting remarks and humor. But it is in this manner that Rudnick gets his main points across in a jab at consumerism and ascribing our sense of worth to our outer beauty. For me, he is much more successful at demonstrating the second. Perhaps with a second careful reading, I would pick out more of the details about consumerism. As it is, I do recall the way that Becky and her friend talked about designers and fashion before she became Rebecca. But she contemplates her worth and beauty a lot more as the novel progresses. I think it helps that Becky is not totally taken in by the beauty industry; the person she most admires is her overweight mother. And her sense of self-worth doesn’t actually change much once she gets the dresses. She admits to being captivated by what she looks like, but it seems like the biggest change is that now she is less honest, a change she frequently feels guilty about.

And, in a book about the fashion and beauty industry, perhaps it is not surprising that the imagery is very vivid. There is a lot of detail dedicated to describing Rebecca’s outfits, and those around her. Once I consider that, I do realize that another change from Becky to Rebecca is that she is now much more aware of what everyone around her is wearing. All of this imagery helps to make the settings much more vivid, though it is admittedly only one dimension of the settings.

Reader’s Annotation: If someone offered you a chance to be the most beautiful woman in the world, with the help of three dresses, would you do it? Becky says yes, but soon starts to wonder what she’s gotten herself into…

Information about the author: This is Paul Rudnick’s first YA novel. He is most well known as a playwright and screenwriter of In and Out and Jeffrey. He also frequently contributes to the New Yorker and Entertainment Weekly.

He grew up in Piscataway, New Jersey in one of few Jewish families in the area. He went to Yale University and moved to Manhattan afterwards to begin his theater career. He has been called one of the wittiest writers of our time and has won numerous awards for his plays.

Genre: Fantasy, Humor, Satire, Fractured Fairytale, Chick Lit

Curriculum ties, if any: This might be interesting to discuss in a unit on consumerism.

Booktalking Ideas: This is quite a funny novel, so I would want to highlight that. I think this will appeal mostly to girls, and the occasional boy, so I would talk about the opportunity to get a practically instant makeover that suddenly makes you beautiful, famous, and rich. But that it has drawbacks.

Reading Level/Interest Age: The main character is 18, has just graduated from high school. Publisher’s Weekly recommends this book for ages 14 and up and School Library Journal for grades 9 and up.

Challenge Issues:

  • Language
  • Homosexuality

Defense strategy:

  1. First, I would want to be familiar with book. As I’ve read this book, I’d be aware of potential issues that could be challenged. In the case of a book I had not read, I would want to have access to reviews.
  2. Then I would put together a rationale for why this book is included in the collection. This rationale would include:
    • Bibliographic Citation of the book.
    • A description of who the book is best suited for.
    • A summary of the book and applicable other information, such as biographical information about the author.
    • My justification for including the book. This would include how it fits in with the selection policy and library mission statement, and include its educational significance if applicable or the impact it could have on readers.
    • Copy of selection policy and library mission statement at my library.
    • ALA Library Bill of Rights
    • Good and bad reviews of the book
    • Alternative works a student could read
    • Reconsideration form if patron is not satisfied with rationale
  3. When talking to patron, I would listen to their concerns without getting on the defensive and attempt to sympathize with their concerns. In some cases, all an upset patron needs is to be able to vent and know that someone is listening to them.
  4. If needed, I would send the challenge up the chain of command.

This book fits the recreational needs of teens, but it also has an important message about being yourself, being honest, and recognizing one’s beautiful qualities inside and out. It is packaged in a way that teens can relate better to it, and don’t feel like they are being pandered to.

Why did you include this book? : I’d read that it was an enjoyable read. It fits the fantasy and humor genre, and as “chick lit” is one I don’t normally read.

Reference Page:

Bruni, F. (1997). At home with: Paul Rudnick; you want gay role models? How about a joke first. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com

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  1. Pingback: Alphabetical List of Titles | let's talk about that book...

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