Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Review: Beige

Beige by Cecil Castellucci
3.5 stars

Book Description: "Dad’s an aging L.A. punk rocker known as the Rat. Daughter’s a buttoned-up neat freak who’d rather be anywhere else. Can this summer be saved? Now that she’s exiled from Canada to sunny Los Angeles, Katy figures she’ll bury her nose in a book and ignore the fact that she’s spending two weeks with her father — punk name: the Rat — a recovered addict and drummer for the famously infamous band Suck. Even though Katy doesn’t want to be there, even though she feels abandoned by her mom, even though the Rat’s place is a mess and he’s not like anything she’d call a father, Katy won’t make a fuss. After all, she is a nice girl, a girl who is quiet and polite, a girl who smiles, a girl who is, well, beige. Or is she?"

My thoughts: Music-themed books seem to be quite the thing these days (e.g., Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist and a few others I can't think of right now). I think Cecil Castellucci is pretty cool and so is this book. Even though I don't know anything about punk music (in fact, I usually have the same freaked-out, "What is this noise?" reaction that Katy does at first), I recognized a few of the songs that are used as chapter titles, so I felt slightly cooler. Actually, I had to double check that, as the first few I didn't even recognize as songs/bands, so I was a bit confused. But it's a neat device and it's an alternative music primer, just like a mix CD that gets made later in the book.

Katy is rather hard to like - she really is beige at first, not just for her pink t-shirt/capris outfits and vague interest in nonthreatening boy bands, but because she's so tightly wound. We eventually learn that she has good reason to fear any loss of control, being the daughter of two recovering junkies. But even though she consistently refers to herself as the quiet, nice girl, she has a lot of rage and fear inside. And really, she's not particularly nice - she does try to be polite, but she seems to hate everyone except her mom and her best friend back in Montreal. She's constantly having a conflicting internal dialogue - she tells herself how nice she's being while at the same time reflecting on how much she hates the person she's being "nice" to. But once she finally starts to shed some of her beige-ness by realizing that she can enjoy music and doesn't have to always be in control, she's able to open up to the idea of letting new friends in.

The Rat is quite the character. I don't read many father-daughter YA novels - dads are usually in the background, if they're there at all - and while he's not going to win Father of the Year, the Rat is trying (at this late stage) to be a good dad, though some basic home and personal hygiene would be nice. He's also trying to get his life together with a nice (if bohemian) girlfriend and the Suck reunion tour. Despite Katy's complete lack of interest in music and her meanness because she's so upset by her mom's backing out of her promise of only being away for 2 1/2 weeks, The Rat tries to make her happy in LA.

The book ends with Katy's mom, in my opinion, completely betraying Katy for a man, although Rat's wise girlfriend does try and point out that Katy's mom is still really young and has been sacrificing everything for Katy since she was 18. I didn't really buy it, but we're left with the impression that non-beige Katy will use her newfound skills for dealing with new situations and people to make the best of her mom's flakiness.

Favourite character: Garth Skater, a neighbourhood skater/drummer boy who worships The Rat. He provides a lot of the humour and he's a very interesting character - without his skating helmet on, he's girlishly pretty, he has no filter and says whatever comes into his head. Despite these quirks and his frank discussions about boners, he's actually a really nice guy.

(This was my first book for the What's in a Name? challenge.)


raidergirl3 said...

Did you watch Big Brother last summer? The father in this book sounds like Evil Dick from BB with his estranged daughter Danielle.

tinylittlelibrarian said...

Actually, I didn't. I'm a huge reality TV fan, but that's one of the few I've never gotten into.

Rebecca said...

Reading your summary, it sounds quite a bit like Born to Rock by Gordon Korman - straight-edge kid must come to terms with wild rocker parent.

tinylittlelibrarian said...

I'm a huge Korman fan, but haven't read that one yet, to my shame. For some reason our Canadian orders person didn't get many copies.