Thursday, April 25, 2019

Book Review - We Were Beautiful by Heather Hepler

Book Synopsis
It’s been a year since fifteen-year-old Mia Hopkins was in the car crash that killed her older sister and left her terribly scarred. The doctors tell her she was lucky to survive. Her therapist says it will take time to heal. The police reports claim there were trace amounts of alcohol in her bloodstream. But no matter how much she tries to reconstruct the events of that fateful night, Mia’s memory is spotty at best. She’s left with accusations, rumors, and guilt so powerful it could consume her.

As the rest of Mia’s family struggles with their own grief, Mia is sent to New York City to spend the summer with a grandmother she’s never met. All Mia wants to do is hide from the world, but instead she’s stuck with a summer job in the bustling kitchens of the cafĂ© down the street. There she meets Fig—blue-haired, friendly, and vivacious—who takes Mia under her wing. As Mia gets to know Fig and her friends—including Cooper, the artistic boy who is always on Mia’s mind—she realizes that she’s not the only one with a painful past.

Over the summer, Mia begins to learn that redemption isn’t as impossible as she once thought, but her scars inside run deep and aren’t nearly so simple to heal … especially when Mia finally pieces together her memories of the night Rachel died.

From acclaimed author Heather Hepler comes We Were Beautiful, a poignant young adult novel about tragedy, forgiveness, and love. Perfect for fans of Robyn Schneider and Justina Chen.


Purchase Links

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My Review
We Were Beautiful is a young adult novel about Mia Hopkins.  Mia is 15 years old;  a year ago she was in a terrible car accident that killed her sister Rachel and left scars on one side of her face.  Mia is sent to stay with her grandmother in New York City for the summer, and there her life begins to change as she works at a neighborhood cafe, meets a new group of arty friends, and even a boy that she feels a real connection with.

This is such a moving and heartfelt book.  Mia is a character I really cared about.  She is tormented by guilt because of the accident that killed her sister and splintered her family (her mother has left home for a convent and her father is perpetually busy and traveling with work).  She also is constantly reminded she is now different because of the extensive scarring on one side of her face.   Some of the reactions people have on her travels are just shockingly cruel.

What Mia wants is a way to find peace and to belong, and her travels to New York City sets that into motion.  While working at a little Italian cafe, she meets Fig, who is quirky and fun and a real kindred spirit.  Through Fig she meets a group of creative teens who she instantly connects with, including Cooper, who has secrets in his own past.

The story is told over the summer, and unfolds little by little.   The writing is beautiful.  Heather Hepler creates a lovely sense of place.  I loved this passage:

"When night falls in Maine, light just ceases to exist.  Rachel and I used to sit on the back porch in the evening, and if we tilted our heads back, all we could see were stars.  So many that it looked like a bowl of them had been upended over earth.

Like holes to heaven, Rachel used to tell me.

Here in New York, I can't see any stars at all.  Just the bright city lights and the darkness beyond" (p. 31).

I love the way that Mia opens herself more to others over the summer, and as she gets to know her grandmother and her new friends, her definition of family expands and changes.  She also learns that many people are broken in ways that you cannot immediately see, and through this she finds new ways to connect.  I like what the author wrote about this in her questions and answers after the end of the novel:

"I think it's important to remember that everyone has a story.  It's easy to just focus on the things we can see -- beauty and wealth and status.  But the important things are the things that you can't see, even the things we hide from each other" (p. 289).

There are some powerful messages in this book that would make it a fine book discussion read, classroom read, or a mother-daughter read.  I think teens will especially respond to the story of Mia and the way she slowly learns to triumph over pain and adversity. 

Author Bio
Heather Hepler is the author of several books for teens and tweens, including Frosted Kisses, Love? Maybe, and The Cupcake Queen. Having lived in East Texas, Alaska, and Death Valley, she currently resides with her son, their two spoiled cats, and their ridiculously smart dog in Maine.


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