Montana and her sister, Arizona, are named after the mountainous states their mother left them for. But Montana is a New York City girl through and through, and as the city heats up, she’s stepping into the most intense summer of her life. With Arizona wrapped up in her college world and their father distracted by yet another divorce, Montana’s been immersing herself in an intoxicating new friendship with a girl from her acting class. Karissa is bold, imperfectly beautiful, and unafraid of being vulnerable. She’s everything Montana would like to become. But the friendship with Karissa is driving a wedge between Montana and her sister, and the more of her own secrets Karissa reveals, the more Montana has to wonder if Karissa’s someone she can really trust. In the midst of her uncertainty, Montana finds a heady distraction in Bernardo. He’s serious and spontaneous, and he looks at Montana in the way she wants to be seen. For the first time, Montana understands how you can become both lost and found in somebody else. But when that love becomes everything, where does it leave the rest of her imperfect life?
Making Pretty is the first book I've read by Corey Ann Haydu, but it made me want to go out and buy her other books. This one is wholly unique; I don't think I've ever read such a complex portrayal of teenage life.
There are several issues the protagonist, Montana, faces in the story. First, there's her father, who remarries over and over again, a repeating pattern so familiar that Montana and her sister, Arizona, place bets and have rituals with each new wife. Not only does her father, a plastic surgeon, "fix" and change his wives' bodies, but he also wants to make changes to his daughters'. This situation is just one of the ways the writing proves so effective. There's this great juxtaposition between how Montana faces her father's disappointment in her body (betrayed, upset, but also in a way resigned) and how the reader feels about this dad placing such unfair standards on his daughters' bodies. I felt disbelief, heartbreak, and fury all at once. Haydu's writing is that good; it evokes so many emotions in the reader.
There's also the complicated relationship Montana has with her sister. She understandably feels left behind when her sister goes to college, but the changes her sister makes while away are the catalyst for her feeling like the two, who used to be inseparable, have grown apart. She doesn't recognize her sister, and coming to terms with this is a big part of her journey is this book.
Montana also discovers first love with her boyfriend, Bernardo. Never have I read a book where first love is portrayed so well, messiness and excitement and impulsiveness included. The reader can see how her father's failed relationships have influenced Montana.
What Left Me Wanting More:
My initial reaction for something more that I wanted from this novel was more resolution at the end, but then I gave it a second thought and realized how brilliant and realistic the ending was. Sometimes people don't learn from their mistakes. Sometimes people repeat their bad choices. Things can't always be tied together with a neat bow.
The Final Verdict:
Making Pretty is an unflinching look at complicated family life, first love, and beauty standards. This novel would make a great book club book; there are so many talking points.