Turning on the question of what you can do to be more beautiful, more exciting, alluring, cool or attractive, my favorite thing about Marie D’Abreo’s Beautiful (subtitled, A girl’s trip through the looking glass), might be how much it talks up to its audience, be that the child audience or the adult, and how easily you can, then, find reviews from adults, mostly parents, who lament the book was not preachier, did not have the ultimate answers to the ultimate questions, and that it did not dictate a lifestyle to their daughters.
“It went very in depth into the changes she should/could make then just three or so pages of her thinking she’s cool the way she is. Very disappointing, I’ll be donating instead of giving it to my daughter,” says one Amazon reviewer (leaping over the entire day of philosophical panicking, the presence of near-cosmic entities, and a serious traffic accident that help move her to her decision that she is actually pretty cool).
Another says, “I ordered this book hoping for it to be a good book to use to discuss self worth to my daughter. We finished the book in one sitting and it just didn’t leave much to discuss. Not what I expected.”
On the flipside, you have, “I wish I had had this book in middle-school and high school. Heck, I wish I had it all my life.”
“In my opinion the content is too mature for an 8-10 year old and for that reason I am giving it 2 stars. I will be forwarding it on to a library with more mature patrons,” says a librarian.
It is, indeed, recommended for the 8-10, and elsewhere, the 10-12 range, which is always interesting when the comic involves primarily adult, or at least young adult characters in a contemporary setting. Lily’s age is not given, but her independent living situation reads as if she’s a college undergrad, rather than a high school student. The younger sister of one character, who Lily towards the end takes under her wing, reads about junior high.
The quotes that frame the comics’ sections are from Mary Carr and other “adult” writers and thinkers. They are mature and intelligent quotes. There is no “mature content,” in the common sense. Nothing is graphically violent, overtly sexual, dramatically biological. There are references to life, to the social, internal, and metaphysical realities of life, and I imagine those feel mature, in that they are a requisite aspect to growing up, if not, simply, to being alive.
Beautiful is Batman RIP without Batman or murder. Cathy, if Cathy could grow up and walk out of her own strip. A comic that talks up to an audience that might span an age range of decades difference. Beautiful is designed to reference and touch on more complex philosophies or labyrinthine histories than it can elaborate on in just over one hundred pages or ever fully encompass, especially sticking to that 8-12 friendly written and visual vocabulary. As Batman RIP invokes buddhist rituals in passing and educates its reader on the possibility of rewriting, of reprogramming our own brains to cope with trauma or specialized tasks, Beautiful directs its audience to a reading list, a research list, through use of the quotes breaking up its chapters, and by refusing to position the “other voice in our head” against any true, pure us, but paralleling it with our waking awareness and our “small voice” within, rather than a good vs evil dialectic, we have a progressive dialogue that can be rationally addressed on a point by point basis.
Beautiful, via this dialogue and its denouement, is able to circumvent the cyclical Hell of Cathy. Cathy, of course, has to remain trapped in her anxiety, in her world of frictions and self-questioning, because she is a cathartic trap for these anxieties and assaults, adults can use to box out these feelings in themselves. Children and even young adults, are often less equipped to vacuum off their anxieties and a toxic world into a box like a ghost in a trap in a Ghostbusters movie, and like in a Ghostbusters movie, doing so often means, eventually, all those collected ghosts will get out and wreak massive havoc by the third act, anyway. The beauty of Beautiful, as an adult reader, is that Beautiful shows the lie of Cathy, that Cathy (or, for that matter, Batman RIP) does not enact the removal of a toxic element, but the continuous and continual revival of it, in interplay, under the guise of exorcism.
D’Abreo’s comic is almost a self-help book, but unlike those, and unlike religious or spiritual tracts, the comic – as noted in a disappointed review above – does not prescribe any specific actions for a happier or more comfortable life. The comic does list things for Lily that she can do to change her appearance or her approach to things, but that is all they do, all they would do; change things. It is a comic to be picked up and to be put down. How the reader or anyone else handles their own sense of beauty is not for a 120 page comic to tell them. When, Beautiful is showing us why we should question fashion magazines or billboards or our own anxious thoughts, it is also preparing us to doubt Beautiful, itself. To try to force this into a dialectic engine, or to act as if such a dialectic is required, is the trap that we try to put our toxic residue, or haunting ghosts in, but it’s also the trap we, ourselves, get caught by. Traffic signs, billboards, and trees may all line the roads, but trees are not billboards and billboards are not traffic signs and some traffic signs are only ever suggestions and none are ever infallible one hundred percent of the time.
Our Trip Through Beautiful: A Girl’s Trip Through the Looking Glass
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