Friday, March 4, 2016

Lesson #1 - My Life in Black & White

What if you lost the thing that made you who you are?

My life as a Language Arts teacher sometimes allows me to escape into the literary lives of my students.  Many students from SOMS kept bugging me to read My Life in Black and White by Natasha Friend, so I succumbed to the pressure, and I must admit, the book never left my hands until the end enveloped my reality. Usually, I am the typical reader; I give into the guilty pleasures of indulging in the enticing "hook" on the back of the book.  However, I took the pure recommendations of my students and never looked back.  All of my assumptions were based merely on what the cover revealed.  Naturally, I didn't know what to expect after peeling back the jacket, which in turn added to the appeal, I suppose.  

My Life in Black and White was very interesting and extremely readable. I went into reading it not knowing what it was about and was pleasantly surprised by both the poignant premise and the well-drawn characters. This book invoked so many emotions in me!  I jetted back in my time machine to the emotionally-filled middle school/high school years of my life.  Hard years for everyone, but I needed to in order to truly experience the plot at a level that I felt was necessary.  With a thought-provoking plot, characters that shine with authenticity, intelligent dialogues and an intensely emotional message it carries, My Life in Black and White proved to be a very moving and rewarding read. 

"You think you're the only one?" Theo said. "Everyone has scars. We just don't all wear them on the outside."

     The plot of this novel was not only entertaining and captivating, but also meaningful. Lexi used to be one of the most beautiful girls at school. She had a sweet life, a gorgeous boyfriend, many friends and admirers, and good prospects for the future. Confident, lively, and flawless, she practically built her life around her good looks. And that proved to be a very big mistake. Her idyllic life was shattered to pieces when - shortly after getting in the car with her boyfriend - she ended up in a car crash, disfiguring her gorgeous face... forever. So what do you do when you lose the one thing you valued the most? The one thing that you thought defined your whole existence? Where do you go from there? 

"I know that sounds stupid," I said, glancing away, "but I feel like I've lost everything... Like, Taylor used to be my best friend and Ryan used to be my boyfriend, and now they're not... and I used to be beautiful." I wanted to disappear after I said that. "I mean - not that I went around thinking that or anything, it's just how other people defined me, my whole life. Alexa Mayer is beautiful. And now..." I forced myself to finish. "I don't know how to act. I don't know how to dress. I don't know... how to be."

     I did not expect to connect with Lexi. At all. Truth be told, I usually end up hating characters that are seemingly vain and shallow, and I believed Alexa to be just that kind of character. Fortunately, she proved me wrong. That's not to say that she wasn't focusing too much on her physical appearance, because she was, to the point that when the accident happened, her whole life shifted. At the same time, though, she didn't rely on her pretty face and flawless figure because of her vanity, she was simply brought up this way by her mother. It's her mother who pressured her into being perfect, moulded her, planned her future to the very last detail. This story brings me back to my Junior year in high school with Mr. Forando, the school guidance counselor.  I was on the college track.  There was no other choice given by my parents/grandparents, even though the choice of reasoning in upstate NY was staying local, getting a job and starting a family.  My transcript was ready to be mailed only to have my mentor, Mr. Forando, try to pull the breaks on my future.  Modeling and pageants were his choice for my life path.  College and discovery was not something he felt matched me.  I surpassed this stereotypical presumptuous recommendation, because I knew there were more avenues for me to explore.  I knew I could do pageants cause I had already gone down that path.  I wanted to explore my multiple intelligences, I knew I had been blessed with, and see what else I could change the world with.      

I did end up liking Lexi quite a lot. I really appreciated the transformation she underwent and was very satisfied with how her story ended - or should I say: how her story begunI also loved the side-kicks, especially Ruthie (the geektastic sister) and Theo (the swoon-impersonator) - they rocked my world. Ruthie was the perfect voice of reason and Theo was the ultimate knight on a white horse in disguise. 

"Squirting people with butter, Alexa, is not how I raised you to behave. There are other ways to express your frustration. More socially acceptable ways."

     Overall, I can say that this book has won me over. Natasha Friend writes with incredible sensitivity and lucidity. Her words speak right to your heart, inviting you to lose yourself in the story. The narrative voice is real and convincing, and so are the dialogues. I liked how light and full of humour the story was, in spite of its serious premise. All the funny moments and witty remarks perfectly balanced the insecurity and frustration that Alexa was radiating. 

     I don't think there was a single thing I didn't like about this book. The truth is, this was really a great story. In fact, it was even deeper and more harrowing than I expected it to be. Despite its heavy subject matter, I found this novel to be very entertaining and fun to read. I loved that, although it does get dark at times, and you do witness the character's emotional fallout, it also ends on a hopeful note, teaching you a very valuable life lesson: you can't let the physical beauty define who you are as a person.  I have also learned this in life too and I hope that if you have not learned this yet, that you will.