Coming of age, Family dynamics, Fiction, Social Commentary, Young Adult

#494 Outside Beauty by Cynthia Kadohata

Outside Beauty by Cynthia KadohataOutside Beauty by Cynthia Kadohata

I liked the first Cynthia Kadohata book so much that I decided to read a second one right after the first. This book is about four sisters. All of them are half-Japanese except for one, who is all the way Japanese. Their mother is a woman named Helen Kimura. She values her beauty above anything else. She collects men just like she collects the real diamonds and other jewels in her collection that grows up to a worth of about one-hundred and fifty thousand dollars.

The sisters are each different as they’re different people, but they each also have different fathers. Our narrator is a girl named Shelby, the second-oldest girl. Her father was actually Japanese. The other girls’ fathers are Italian-American and a mixture of other hyphenated Americans.

The girls do hope for a father in life. They really like Lakey’s father Larry. He lives in California. They go out to visit him when the current boyfriend, Pierre, throws a temper-tantrum. All the girls really like Larry, but Helen doesn’t like him so much. She sees each man as a conquest. She teaches her girls how to look beautiful. She tells them how to get men. Despite all of these perhaps dubious teachings, she also takes very good care of her daughters. They always have food. They have what they need. They each get their own box of crackers. Their mother is quite thoughtful to them. Each of them are trusted with responsibilities and money from a young age. They all know how to make a budget for a trip or read a map. They even have their own savings, which totals around three-thousand dollars, and that’s saying something for young girls.

Something terrible happens part of the way through the book. As a result of this terrible incident each of the girls must go and live with their fathers for a while. Lakey enjoys her time in California. Marilyn enjoys her stay in Chicago because her father is there. For the most part Shelby enjoys her stay with her father in Arkansas. He makes gum. He has a goat and he’s not a bad person. She sees wisdom in his ways. The one who doesn’t enjoy her stay is Maddie, the youngest. Her father has claimed himself as a child-rearing expert and expects her to behave a certain way, which includes not wetting the bed.

The girls grow more and more concerned over Maddie. At one point they must fly back to Chicago to see their mother who has acquired an infection. They make a plan on how to remain together. It’s a little daring and it gets them in a bit of trouble, but their mother has already taught them the things they need to know to complete their task.

What I liked

I liked how close these sisters were. I don’t have any sisters. I really have no idea what it’s like to have a sister or to be close to another woman in the way that these four sisters are close. I like how they care for one another and depend on one another. They’re quite capable of living on their own if need be. Their mother taught them well in the realm of self-reliance even if it didn’t always appear that she was doing so.

What I didn’t like

This story goes to show a person how petty some people can be. Helen Kimura, while not the greatest role model, is a good mother. She keeps her children together and will do almost anything to make sure it stays that way. The fathers on the other-hand each have their failings, but none so much as Maddie’s father, Mr. Bronson. Mr. Bronson seems to be the most educated out of all four fathers, but he seems to lack the most people smarts. He doesn’t know how to deal with people properly and encroaches on the territory of decisions best made by other people. He treats poor Maddie like a robot and expects her to behave like one when she’s just a child. If he’s such an expert on child-rearing and already has three children of his own, then he should know that children do not behave like robots.

I think it’s really sad that such a young child got ripped away from the only life she knew and got placed into something so foreign she really couldn’t have imagined it. It happens a lot though, in real life. Custody battles end up with some strange outcomes sometimes. People are often more concerned about their desires and wants than they are about the child they’re playing tug-of-war with. Sometimes what’s best for a child isn’t necessarily what parenting books say is best for a child.

Looking at Helen, she does teach her girls some dubious lessons. She teaches them to value beauty and use men. Marilyn and Shelby are old enough to see her mistakes and her loneliness, but the younger two girls are not. Beauty is not necessarily something you should teach your children to value above all else, unless you’re also teaching your children to find beauty in all things, then maybe you could teach them to value beauty above all else. Beauty, as in the type of beauty Helen is so proud of, is fleeting and is not fixed. It will change and whither. Although, even after an accident that causes Helen’s beauty to change she still managed to exude beauty in her own way.


These girl are independent and they stick together.

Weigh In

Do you think Helen is correct in teaching her girls to value their beauty above other qualities?

If you didn’t have a father or a very good father, whose father would you choose instead and why?

beauty, blended families, children with different fathers, cynthia kadohata, japanese girls, lakey, maddie, marilyn, outside beauty, Outside Beauty by Cynthia Kadohata, sexpot, shelby, sisters, sisters want to stay together, valuing beauty
Coming of age, Family dynamics, Fiction, Kadohata-Cynthia, Social Commentary, Young Adult


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