When Riley's Dad gets a new girlfriend, life turns upside down for Riley. She doesn't like Norma and Norma doesn't like her. But it is not until Riley finds herself shipped off to 'camp' that she realises just how bad things have become. Determined to continue on her path of bad behaviour and general obnoxiousness, Riley Rose is sure that she can turn this 'spiritual camp' upside down. And when she meets Dylan Luck, recent paraplegic, she thinks she has found a fellow troublemaker. What follows is a very surprising week for Riley. Truths are told and secrets revealed, and sex, cigarettes and booze prove to be a potent cocktail, but in the end Riley has learnt quite a lot about herself, Dylan and exactly why she appeared hell-bent on self-destruction.
I first came across Everything Beautiful after a review of it over at Vulpes Libres. I was super excited to read it after that and thought myself incredibly lucky to meet Simmone Howell at the fabulous author event organised by and for Chicklish in June. Simmone Howell is absolutely lovely and I would have read this book straight away, even if it hadn't fit in with Jo's Body Image and Self Perception month.
I really loved Riley. She's all messed up from her mom's death years before, and she doesn't seem to be coping very well with her dad's new girlfriend. The last thing she wants or needs is to be shipped off to religious camp, but that's where her version of rebellion lands her. Riley acts like she doesn't care and yes, she is a little obnoxious at times, but you can tell that she's really a big softie underneath the attitude and snark. She's quite upfront about her weight, calling attention to it even, but she's not going to let that stop her or get in her way. (I like that about Riley, I'd love to own my weight like she does.) She just wants to do her time at camp and be on her way.
Things don't really go to plan. She doesn't expect to enjoy herself or make friends with her roommates. She doesn't expect to connect with Dylan Luck, boy in the wheelchair. And Dylan's still angry and coming to terms with his new life after his accident that he seems to be mad at the world. And by getting to know Dylan, Riley can finally see that there's more to everyone and if she can let other people in, if she can believe in good things, she can move on in some way. Lose some of her own pain and anger.
It's a really wonderful book. I think Riley and Dylan are really fleshed-out characters and their relationship together quite sweet. I loved some of the minor characters as well, especially Bird and Sarita. I loved the inclusion of Utopia by Thomas More. I love that it isn't a religious book at all, and Riley isn't magically converted at the end or anything. The ending feels a tad abrupt, but it's left on a nice hopeful note. I really smiled throughout the book, at the dialogue, the snarkiness, the playful little jabs at religion. Good fun all around and highly recommended!