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{August 2, 2013}   {ARC Review} Skin by Donna Jo Napoli

17859733From Goodreads: My lips are white. Sixteen-year-old Sep stares into the bathroom mirror. It’s not some weird lipstick (she never wears lipstick). Her lips are just ? white. In a panic, she digs up an old lipstick and smears it on her colorless lips. But soon, more and more white spots begin to bloom, spreading their chalky tendrils across her olive brown skin. Does she have a disease? Is she turning into some kind of freak? Sep is usually the one who knows all the answers. With a quicksilver mind and a supple body, she’s happiest when she’s delving into the mysteries of animal biology or giving herself over to sweet, hot moves in Jazz Dance Club. Unlike her best friend, Devin, she’s never been in a rush to get a boyfriend. But as the white blotches spread, her dating days ? like the endangered species she studies ? seem numbered. So when Joshua, a boy she’s always liked, makes a flirty advance, she wonders: why not grab pleasure while she can? Frank, funny, and full of passion, this is the empowering story of a strong gifted teen who, as her life spins out of control, desperately tries to prove to the world ? and herself ? that she is deeper than skin.

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This novel’s social commentary on the world’s current perception of beauty is one I think many need to read about, but especially teens. In our day and age, the toned “model body” is sought after and idolized, and anyone who doesn’t measure up, be it in weight, height, or even facial symmetry is left feeling less attractive by default, whether people tell them so or not. I see this a lot with the students I teach, and I think with all the technology and social media available today, the issue of beauty takes over tenfold because the “model body” is plastered everywhere, and one bad make-up day or hair day can be snapped by any phone and tweeted to the whole world–how mortifying. It wasn’t like this when I was growing-up, and truthfully, it never bothered me because I wasn’t exposed to the perceived conception of beauty as much as our teens are now, and for me, different was always better, which is probably one of the reason’s that I don’t fully connect with Sep’s issue with her skin.

Sep has vitaligo, a condition that depigmentizes the skin. On the first day of school, she wakes up with white lips, only to lose color quite quickly in splotches all across her body as the novel progresses. Of course, I’ve never been on the receiving end of vitaligo, so I can’t say I wouldn’t feel as mortified as Sep does, but in my old age, I do have to say that I find it quite beautiful on those I’ve met with this type of skin condition, be it from vitaligo or some other condition. But that’s me. I’m not a teenager in my prime who has to deal with how others perceive her, and I imagine it’d feel quite differently had I been in Sep’s shoes.

While I can appreciate Sep’s feelings, I feel like she sort of went off the deep end, though. Afraid she’ll never experience true love based on her looks, she goes from never been kissed to full on sex (everywhere) with her new boyfriend (who also is her first boyfriend). And I get that our teens jump into sex very quickly in today’s society, because really, that sacred act isn’t viewed as sacred anymore, but the one aspect of the story that threw me was the undertone that sex sets teens free. Sep is also a dancer, and on a few occasions she states that, since sex, she’s been more in-tuned with her body. But I disagree. I believe that she’s more in-tune with her body because she inspects is multiple times daily to see if she’s lost any more pigment, and she now knows every inch of her body. While it is true that she’s been awakened to sexual feelings, I don’t necessarily agree that it will make someone a better dancer. And, while Sep says something along the lines of not wanting to say that sex was the cause for her great dancing, it’s still pretty much what she says near the end, and for me, well, that’s not the underlying message I want teens to take away from this novel. What I want them to get is that beauty is only skin deep and, as Sep learns, there is much more to life and love than our appearance. Three stars.

3 starsAmazon Children’s Publishing has been extremely gracious in allowing me to read an ARC of this novel, via Netgalley, prior to its release on August 6, 2013.

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