Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Book Review: This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman

This Beautiful Life is a "ripped from the headlines" story about a family that is deeply affected by a sexting scandal.  When fifteen year old Jake forwards an email containing a video of a schoolmate performing pornographic acts to his best friends, he doesn't realize that he'll set off the latest public sexting scandal as the video goes viral.  The book deals with the effect of this scandal on Jake, his parents, and his adopted sister.

The writing in this one is splendid.  I've seen comparisons to Lionel Shriver (author of We Need To Talk About Kevin) that I think are deserved.  This is more character study than is usually presented in straight up women's lit, so it wasn't exactly what I was expecting.  However, the literary value in the story was a good surprise.  I appreciated that the author went deeper than the obvious shock value and addressed issues beyond the obvious issues of privacy in the age of electronics and teen sexuality.

Entertainment Value
Again, I expected the typical women's fiction, Culturally Relevant Moral Issue Book, and was pleasantly surprised at the direction this one took.  For me, seeing the family fall apart after this scandal was more interesting than the scandal itself.  I also appreciated that the author included a sympathetic male teen.  We're not led to see Jake as some kind of sex fiend or exploitative monster - he's just a teen boy who got an email that he didn't know how to respond to.  I think our culture is as hard for teen boys to navigate as it is for girls and we don't always get the male perspective.  We worry about how early sexualization affects girls, but this showed how harmful it can be for boys as well.

I think this one is definitely worth picking up.  It's also quite short - I read it in two sittings - and accessible for a variety of readers.  The multiple narrators really take the book out of the realm of women's fiction for me and make it something that will appeal to a wider audience.

Thank you to TLC for letting me be a part of this tour.  Click here to find a list of the other tour hosts.


  1. Teen boys DO tend to get a bad rap in fiction these days - glad to see that Jake isn't a stereotypical character!

    Thanks for being on the tour.

  2. I read This Beautiful Life and really liked it. While the characters and some of their actions frustrated me, it really made for a thought-provoking read. Jake was an excellent character and his inner struggles in particular were the heart of the story for me.

    For a different treatment of the same subject, I highly recommend Susan Vaught's YA novel, Going Underground. (I actually wish that this could be required reading for every teenager.)

    As a mom of teenagers, I find this subject terrifying in that this situation could happen so easily to any family.

  3. Wow, the author's writing has been compared to Lionel Shriver? I think that's high praise indeed!

    I love any book that I can read fairly quickly. If a book takes too long to read, sometimes it languishes because I have so little reading time as it is!

  4. Hmm... something so interesting about blogger reviews is that I read two other reviews from bloggers I trust who really did not like this book! They said the characters were so unlikable it made the book difficult to like. But I trust your reviews as well! I do think the topic is intriguing and the writing sounds great.

  5. I read this one in two sittings as well. I hadn't heard the comparison to Lionel Shriver but now that you mention it, I can see the similarities.