When I saw the cover of the young adult novel Pretty Face by Mary Hogan at my library, I got high hopes for it. I deduced that it was about a plus-size teenage girl living in skinny-obsessed Southern California who discovers to love her body as is during a life-changing trip to Italy after quickly scanning the cover flap. My heart fluttered, because it was reminiscent of one of my favorite books, the memoir An Italian Affair which was about a woman who learns to accept her body (inside and out) while carrying on a long distance relationship with an older man she met while traveling in Italy. I snatched it off the shelf and quickly took to reading it. I held all my hope and reservations in check until I finished it.
Pretty Face is the story of Hayley, an overweight teen who is being badgered (damn near abused) by her mother to lose weight—a woman who lost weight on a Weight Watchers program and now is cooking & badgering her family with the zeal of a skinny convert. Self-conscious Hayley hides her pain of not fitting in with the pretty skinny folks of Santa Monica by binge-eating on comfort food in front seat of her car or making up for being fat by being the funny girl. Feeling she needs a change of scene, her parents send her to Italy to spend the summer with an old family friend. This is where and when the transformations begin.
Hayley is automatically seduced by the long, home-cooked meals and her diet plans fail her. The descriptions of yummy dishes will have your mouth watering. She spends her days at a slow anti-Santa Monica pace. She walks and bikes everywhere. She gardens. She reads and plays board games with her host family. She stops to literally and figuratively soak up everything the small Italian town has the offer. Instead of spending days self-loathing, Hayley begins to enjoy life. And her life becomes very sweet when she finds the gorgeous, gap-toothed Enzo—her first love and lover. Their romance is strong, quick and heady, and they fall under the spell of each other easily. Best of all, he loves her body. She’s his curvy Americana with a beautiful face, and the phrase is not used as an underhanded compliment. Hayley finally accepts and learns to love her big body.
Upon returning to California, she is immediately crushed by her mother’s size obsession as Hayley body has firmed up and slimmed down a bit from her daily walking tours and visits to ancient churches. Hayley does not revel in the compliment of being/looking smaller because she is past needing it. Then on the last page, the book takes a turn. Hayley steps on the scale and is happy about the number on it! The book tried so hard to create a journey of a protagonist who takes care of herself physically AND emotionally for the first time and accepts her body for what it is and can do, but it suddenly kills that positive message by having her equate it to the number on the scale.
With that said, I do come away from the book with less self-loathing about my weight and I’m sure several girls (and maybe boys) will as well. The love story between Hayley and Enzo was sexy without being graphic or smutty. The author also does an excellent job of transporting the reader to a different place, and making one long to take a trip to Italy ASAP. The other downside of Pretty Face is the liberal sprinkling of cultural references that dates the book, and will have readers 3 to 5 years from now running to Wikipedia to understand them all.
On a scale of 5 stars, I give Pretty Face 3 stars. (Five stars for the excellent descriptions of food.)