Book Review: Gorgeous by Paul Rudnick
I’ll be honest: When I first heard about Gorgeous, I was quite skeptical about the chances that I’d actually like it. I mean — magical dresses? The fashion world? Um, no.
Fortunately, I decided to check it out anyway, and to see for myself what all the buzz was about. And I’m happy that I did. Gorgeous is definitely about inner beauty, the traps that fame can bring, and finding out who you are and what you want. It’s sweet and funny all at the same time, and never drags for a second.
So what’s it all about? In a nutshell:
Becky Randle, age 18, grew up in a trailer park in Missouri. As Gorgeous opens, Becky’s reclusive, morbidly obese mother has just died, and Becky is left on her own. Becky has never had what you’d call confidence — she’s self-conscious about her looks and her economic status, and mostly moves through life with her head down, trying not to be noticed. Becky considers herself plain and mousy, and nobody really disagrees with her on that. Her one true friend, Rocher (yes, named for the chocolates!) is her biggest supporter, but Becky is absolutely adrift after her mother’s death…
…until she finds a mysterious phone number hidden away amongst her mother’s belongings, calls it, and is invited to New York, all expenses paid, where some sort of secret — or perhaps an opportunity — will be revealed. Before her death, Becky’s mother made her make a promise:
“[S]omething is going to happen to you. And it’s going to be magical.”
She was gripping my hand very tightly and looking right into my eyes. “And it might be scary and you might not know what it means, not at first. But it’s going to change your life, forever. And Becky, I want you to swear to me, because I love you so much, and because you deserve everything, you deserve the whole world, so Becky, when the magic shows up — I want you to say yes.”
So Becky says yes, and finds herself in New York in the secret compound of mysterious superstar designer Tom Kelly, who offers Becky a deal: He’ll make her three dresses, which she’ll wear when and where he dictates, and in return, he’ll make her the most beautiful woman in the world. Becky decides to take a chance — it’s that or go back to Missouri and spend her time as a supermarket cashier — and thanks to a magnificent red dress and some killer shoes, is in fact tranformed into Rebecca Randle. Rebecca really is the most beautiful woman in the world, and becomes an instant superstar. One catch? She’s still Becky on the inside. So long as other people are with her, Becky sees Rebecca when she looks in the mirror — but alone, she sees plain old Becky, who still has lank, uncooperative hair and gains weight when Rebecca overindulges on sweets.
But wait! There’s a final condition to be met. Becky’s glamorous life as Rebecca will end after one year unless she manages to fall in love and get married before the year is up. Becky is, of course, a little angry about this requirement — really, marry at age 18? But life as Rebecca is a non-stop whirlwind full of celebrities, special treatment, and all the attention she could ever want. Everything is possible, and after a chance encounter, Becky decides to aim high: She decides that she’ll marry Prince Gregory, heir to the British throne — and a nice, funny, adorable guy to boot.
Needless to say, complications upon complications ensue. Can Rebecca really be accepted by the royal family and the British people? Can she pull this off before the year is up? And wait — it’s not enough to just get married. Can Rebecca really have fallen in love with Prince Gregory, or is this just the next natural step on her meteoric rise to fame and fortune?
Enough with the plot details! I won’t give anything else away. Gorgeous is a delight to read, in so many ways. Author Paul Rudnick is a deft writer, putting words in Becky’s mouth that actually feel right for an 18-year-old girl. Becky has a terrific sense of humor, and even as beautiful Rebecca, it’s when she lets her inner Becky out — full of snark and wit — that she’s most likeable and captivating.
I won’t say how the royal pursuit turns out… but much of it hinges on Becky’s dilemma. If Prince Gregory does in fact fall for her, how can she ever know if it’s really the true Becky he loves? Would he love her if she didn’t look like Rebecca? And if she can get everything she dreams of, will it really make her happy if it’s all based on a false face and body?
Becky is a fabulous character. She’s a daughter who loves and cherishes her mother, and it’s her commitment to her mother’s memory — as well as the promise of answers to the mystery of her mother’s life — that drives Becky forward and motivates her to stick with the crazy life offered by Tom Kelly. Becky is smart and wickedly funny, and sees Rebecca’s instant power and influence as a means to an end, hoping to model herself after her mother’s idol, the late Princess Alicia (this novel’s stand-in for Princess Diana) and use her worldwide celebrity to advance the causes of those who need help.
I loved Becky’s friendship with Rocher, who is crass, brash, and a constant supporter of Becky — despite her tendency to gush over celebrities and cause minor and major uproars at the nicest of events. Prince Gregory is a prince of a guy, and I could understand how Becky would fall — not just for his royalty and status but for his self-deprecating humor, compassion and caring.
Gorgeous is a lovely modern-day fairy tale. Yes, it does require quite a suspension of disbelief. (Magical dresses!!!) I’m not sure that the revelation of the hows and whys makes a whole lot of sense — but from an emotional point of view, it’s actually very sweet and moving. Ultimately, Becky has to decide for herself what kind of person she wants to be, and whether having outer beauty is worth the sacrifice of being herself. There’s a strong message in Gorgeous about the downside of celebrity and the rewards of honesty, without every being trite or hokey. And as a parent myself, I appreciated how central the role of family is in this story. Ultimately, it’s Becky’s mother’s love for her that drives the action of this story, and Becky finds her own answers and acceptance by understanding who her mother was and what she really wanted for her.
Gorgeous is aimed at the young adult market, but I’d have no hesitation in recommending this smart, funny book to teens and adults. Check it out! It’ll definitely make you laugh… and you might even find yourself a little teary-eyed along the way.