Author: Lucy Silag
Release date: US 8th January 2009
Target audience: 12+
Beautiful Americans is a contemporary young adult novel exploring the lives of four teenagers who spend a year studying in Paris.
Alex, Olivia, PJ and Zack leave their families behind in the US and arrive in Paris to study the Programme Americain at the exclusive Lycée de Monceau. Each of them has a different reason for leaving their homes behind. Alex expects to find a wonderful romance in Paris. Olivia wants to audition for the Opera ballet school to help her achieve a scholarship. PJ wants to escape her past and find her sister. Zach wants to be himself and find a boyfriend away from the watchful eye of his small town community. As the weeks at the Lycée go by, each of the students tries to find their way through this new world. They experience the highs and lows of friendship, the agony of love and the wonders of learning in a new culture.
Although I found this book easy to read, I didn’t find it particularly engaging. None of the characters are especially likeable. Alex is a selfish, self-obsessed, whiner. PJ doesn’t let anyone get close to her – even the reader is kept at arm’s length. Zach doesn’t seem to have any unique character traits. Olivia is the most likeable but even her love of dance doesn’t make her stand out.
I think there are two main problems with this novel. The first is that the character voices don’t sound different from each other. What they say and think is different, but the way they say it is the same. There were none of the idiosyncrasies of dialogue that you experience with the different way people speak. As each chapter alternates between the four perspectives, they needed to sound clearly different from each other.
The second problem is that this is a character driven novel where not all that much happens. There is the wonder of Paris but there isn’t a sweeping romance or a thrilling plot. So when the characters don’t leap off the page, you’re not left with enough to feel connected to as the reader. This is just my opinion. I know other people have loved this book. Personally, I much preferred Party by Tom Leveen which succeeds in telling a story from multiple viewpoints.
Overall, Beautiful Americans was a disappointing read for me. A contemporary novel set in Paris. The setting was wonderful but the story fell flat. Perhaps a worthy beach read but not something you can really sink your teeth into.