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"Beautiful to the Bone" by PG Lengsfelder

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Eunis is born with unique genetic markers: she’s albino, and has a very prominent brown birthmark on her face that runs down to her neck. Unfortunately her mother is a superstitious bumpkin who convinces Eunis that she’s some kind of ugly freak, not to be trusted, a bringer of bad luck.

Much of the energy of this book derives from this conflict. Eunis accepts this verdict at a basic level, even as she resents and rebels against her mother. Additionally, she finds she has perceptions and powers which she struggles to understand. Harnessing them remains out of the question. The plot follows this unique being through a difficult solitude in school, in her brief marriage, and later in her lonely quest to define beauty through some objective criteria.

And in this, Mr. Lengsfelder has built the most interesting feature of this rather patchy work. His heroine, however convinced she is of her own ugliness, nevertheless attracts a series of others, some of whom find her irresistible. He sets his lead character on a lifelong quest to define beauty: she studies genetics, works in a lab that tests various genetic properties, and keeps measuring and analyzing her own attraction to others.

Beyond this potentially interesting setup, the book struggles to find a pace or a compelling principle upon which to build its narrative. We travel along with Eunis, and we cringe when she inadvertently hurts or insults people, or damages their careers, or pushes potentially appealing partners away. We wonder at the import of her visions and voices. Things happen to her because of her good intentions, but mostly her focus is herself, and protecting her privacy, which she values so highly because
of her disgust with her own looks.

And given the way her mother treated her when she was young, I cannot accept her move back home to help this vituperative, toxic creature. There is also a quick, befuddling murder mystery at the end of the book, and we end up with very little idea of the motivation for the killing, and only slightly more of an idea who did it.

I found Eunis moderately appealing at times, but very, very inconsistent in her decisions, and downright annoying most of the time. It could be that Eunis is meant to put the reader off, or to make the reader ponder the principles of physical attraction, but I did not find her an overall success. And that’s the same way I view this book.

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Abdelghafour

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