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Outside Beauty
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Outside Beauty

4.3 12
by Cynthia Kadohata

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"My mother had four daughters by four different men."

There's only one way Shelby and her sisters can describe their mother: She's a sexpot. Helen Kimura collects men (and loans, spending money, and gifts of all kinds) from all over the country. Sure, she's not your typical role model, but she's also not just a pretty face and nail polish. She is


"My mother had four daughters by four different men."

There's only one way Shelby and her sisters can describe their mother: She's a sexpot. Helen Kimura collects men (and loans, spending money, and gifts of all kinds) from all over the country. Sure, she's not your typical role model, but she's also not just a pretty face and nail polish. She is confident and brave; she lives life on her own terms, and her four daughters simply adore her. These girls have been raised outside the traditional boundaries. They know how to take the back exit. They know how to dodge crazed lovers in highway car chases. They do not, however, know how to function without one another.

Then suddenly they must. A late-night phone call unexpectedly shreds the family apart, catapulting the girls across the country to live with their respective fathers. But these strong-willed sisters are, like their mother, determined to live life on their own terms, and what they do to pull their family back together is nothing short of beautiful.

At turns wickedly funny and insistently thought-provoking, Outside Beauty showcases Cynthia Kadohata's unerring ability to explore the bonds that bind.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Newbery Medalist Kadohata's (Kira-Kira) gifts for creating and containing drama and for careful definition of character prove as powerful as ever in this wise, tender and compelling novel. Although the 12-year-old narrator, Shelby, and her three sisters are as different as their respective fathers (whom they rarely see), they remain devoted to one another and to their stunningly beautiful Japanese-American mother, who uses her looks to collect men the same way she collects pieces of jewelry (and for much the same purpose). When their mother is critically injured-and disfigured-in a car crash, the girls are dispersed from their Chicago apartment to the care of the four fathers. At first Shelby's father, a Japanese-born gum manufacturer in rural Arkansas, reminds her of "one of those nearsighted Japanese men with cameras who moved in clusters throughout Chicago tourist attractions." But when one of the fathers appears to be mistreating a sister and Shelby tries to plan a way for all four to reunite, she begins to appreciate her father's kindness and generosity, and to find beauty in unexpected places. Her growing insight into the difference between beauty and perfection accompanies steady revelations about families and love. Ages 12-up. (June)

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KLIATT - Janis Flint-Ferguson
Shelby is almost 13 years old. She is the third of the four daughters of a beautiful Japanese woman, each by a different husband. They live with none of their fathers and their mother teaches them about beauty and how it has given them all that they need to get by. However, in a cruel instant, their mother is involved in a horrific car crash that destroys her outside beauty and threatens to tear the girls apart. Marilyn, Lakey, Shelby and Maddie are each sent to live with their fathers while their mother recuperates in a Chicago hospital. Shelby is sent to live with a Japanese man in Arkansas who runs a gum company, but young Maddie is sent to live with Mr. Bronson, a rigid man who demands routine and manners. When their mother takes a turn for the worst, they reunite at her hospital bedside and the older girls see the odd changes in their little sister. Once their mother's health returns, they decide to run away together to keep Maddie from having to remain any longer with Mr. Bronson. The story emphasizes the strength of family and relationships; the girls are stronger than they appear and stronger together than any one of them is alone. Keeping track of the families may prove difficult for younger readers, but older readers will appreciate the characters' resilience and determination to stay together. Reviewer: Janis Flint-Ferguson
VOYA - Jule Watkins
"My mother had four daughters by four different men." Twelve-year-old Shelby has repeated this line so often to explain her unorthodox family that is has become automatic. Although their beautiful and shrewd mother earns a living by charming men into gifting her with expensive jewelry and money, the girls have become accustomed to relying on one another for support. Their bond is unyielding and their loyalty fierce. Then one night, their way of life comes to an abrupt halt when their mother is severely disfigured and injured in a car accident. With her recovery uncertain, the girls are sent across the country to live with their respective fathers and an equally uncertain future. This novel has an intriguing and original plot. Unfortunately its potential is never quite realized. With the exception of narrator Shelby, the lack of depth and exploration into the sisters' experiences and emotions leaves the reader feeling rather bereft. The ending feels contrived, tying up the different story elements in a manner that is almost too neat and tidy. Those searching for a more authentic reading experience would be better satisfied with Kadohata's Newbery-winning Kira-Kira (Atheneum/S & S, 2004/VOYA June 2004). That said, the story has some funny and thought-provoking moments and will particularly appeal to young girls searching for an enjoyable, quick read. Reviewer: Jule Watkins
Stephanie McNemar
Shelby Kimura and her three sisters live with a mother who believes that everyone judges you on your beauty alone. Their mother is what they call a sexpot, collecting money, jewelry, and men along the way. The only thing Shelby and her sisters share is their mother. Each is the product of their mother's failed relationships. This commonality is what keeps the girls strong and united. In a sudden turn of events, the girls must learn how to live separately from each other with their fathers when their mother is injured. Cynthia Kadohata portrays the four young girls as strong and smart people who have learned to adapt to situations that they have no control of. The book is a quick and easy read, leaving you feeling good that outside beauty isn't as good as inner beauty. Reviewer: Stephanie McNemar
School Library Journal

Gr 7 Up- Shelby, 13, and her three sisters, ages 16, 8, and 6, have different fathers. They live in early-1980s Chicago with their free-spirited mother, Helen, a striking and beauty-obsessed Japanese bombshell. Helen is a cult of personality unto herself, and the older girls happily care for the younger ones while Mom collects boyfriends. When she is in a disfiguring car accident, the girls separate to live with their fathers. Shelby's dad is a kind, level-headed Japanese greenhorn, while six-year-old Maddie's, an Anglo, is a patronizing, abusive bully. The four girls plot their escape-back to Helen, but really back to one another. The novel is oddly missing pop-culture references, so the '80s setting is perplexing and extraneous. The first chapters of the book are packed with contrived, purposefully madcap shenanigans and creaky, expository dialogue. Once the scene is set, though, Shelby settles into a more natural, thoughtful voice, and the surprisingly gripping plot gains pace and substance. The cloyingly devil-may-care mood of the opening turns mercifully more sober and suspenseful as the girls' troubles deepen. The sisters have distinct, authentic voices, and their conversations are smooth, snappy, and believable. The male characters are well drawn too, especially Shelby's sweet, hilarious father, who gets the best lines in the book. Shelby's running commentary on beauty is smart and poignant, as is her portrayal of a mother she both loves and reviles.-Johanna Lewis, New York Public Library

Kirkus Reviews
Shelby, 13, and her three sisters adore their beautiful, narcissistic mother, Helen Kimura, who supports them on the proceeds of her symbiotic relationships with men. Each girl has a different father, so after their mother suffers a serious car accident, the girls are parceled out to their respective dads. While Shelby learns to love hers, she also longs to reunite her original family unit. The girls understand and accept that maintaining and using her "outside beauty" is Helen's profession, but Shelby, at least, recognizes that beauty can take other forms, too. Her plain, shy, Japanese-immigrant father is a case in point, and the nonjudgmental love she shares with her sisters and mother is another. To enjoy this fairy-tale-without-fantasy, readers must buy the premise that this lifestyle has produced a happy, high-functioning family; once they've done that, the superb composition and characterization will carry them along. Realistic or not, two important truths underlie this quirky and disarming tale: Tolstoy was wrong; not all happy families are alike. And, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. (Fiction. 12 & up)

Product Details

Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
4.90(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)
620L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years


Meet the Author

Cynthia Kadohata is the author of the Newbery Medal–winning book Kira-Kira, the National Book Award winner The Thing About Luck, the Jane Addams Peace Award and Pen USA Award winner Weedflower, Cracker!, Outside Beauty, A Million Shades of Gray, and several critically acclaimed adult novels, including The Floating World. She lives with her son and dog in West Covina, California.

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Outside Beauty 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
WishStealer More than 1 year ago
This book isn't exactly what I expected, but it turns out to be very good. Shelby and her sisters all want to be like their mother--beautiful, flirty, and has the ability to make any man fall head over heels for her. But when Shelby's mom has an emergency, the sister needs to be divided and live with their own fathers, four different men. They try to stay in contact, but they are afraid Maddie is changing because of her strict father. A story about what's it like to be separated from the ones you love the most.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
It's always been Shelby, her mom, and her three sisters. The story is told through Shelby's eyes. She is the second eldest of the four. They live in an untraditional family, to say the least. Each of the sisters has a different father. And they each have different ancestry, as well. One is half Japanese, half Italian. One is half Japanese and half Chinese. One is half Japanese and half Anglo. And Shelby is all Japanese.

Their mom has always been on the quest for eternal beauty and the rich husband. None of the girls' fathers have satisfied her, even though Lakey's father, Larry, wants to marry her. It's only after learning of Larry's engagement to another woman that Helen realizes what she could've had.

Even with the bizarre family ties, the girls and their mother are close. They do everything together. And though maybe unconventional, their mother has done a good job raising the girls. It's only after her mother is in a serious car accident that their world crumbles. Since none of the girls are legally adults, Helen must arrange homes for the girls while she recovers.

It is decided that each of the girls will go to live with their respective fathers. Shelby has only seen her father a handful of times. Jiro is a reserved man, living a quiet life in Arkansas. Except for the fact that he dresses terribly uncool, as the summer unfolds, Shelby realizes he's not a bad man, just unknown to her.

It's Maddie that has the worst situation. Her father, Mr. Bronson, has been legally trying to obtain custody of her, stating Helen is an unfit mother. He's a stern disciplinarian, and Maddie's personality starts to disappear, living in his oppressive home.

When notified that their mother may die, all the girls are flown home to be with her. The girls take matters into their own hands when they fear that they could be permanently separated if the worst happens. They will do anything they can to keep their family unit together, and to save Maddie.

Ms. Kadohata writes a powerfully moving novel of four girls struggling to keep the lives they've always known. Separated from each other, they can barely survive. Looking in from the outside, the reader knows what is going on, but feels powerless to stop the momentum that is driving their lives. After reading OUTSIDE BEAUTY, the reader will come away with a wonderful feeling of family, and of how love can pull you through anything.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Jennifer Mcraven More than 1 year ago
this is a great book it shows how to be strong you should all way look up to your mother
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As I said in the headline, I expected Cynthia Kadohata's book, Outside Beauty, to be amazing, just like the rest of her works. The majority of her book was flashbacks from previous times in the sisters lives, which were used to tell the present story. At times, this could become boring and like a long string of words. Sometimes, it was very hard to tell whether the narrator, Shelby, was talking about something in the present or the past. So, I waited and waited for something big to happen, and it eventually did. They were split up to live with their own fathers. I felt that Shebly was being very hard on her father, Jiro. I understand she must have felt upset about the trajedy and wanted to be with her sisters, but she never gave Jiro a chance until he did something for her in return. I felt very sorry for Jiro. And I felt the mother, since she did have SO many men in her life, she seemed to not set a very good example for her childern. In her life, beauty is everthing, which isn't necessarily true. Once the mother was going through all that trajedy, she still only thought about her makeup. And her daughters, frankly, dress like hobags. Every time they wake up, they put on tanktops and too-tight jeans. That's really...mature for a 13 year old. One positive note is that I liked the main character. She seemed very smart and I agreed with her on most things. Another positive was the writing. No doubt that Kadohata is a great writer, I just didn't really like the stroy. In the end, the values taught were nonexistant. The main character went through not a lot of change, which could have made the stroy great. But she did pretty much stay the same, so I didn't like the story that much.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
sounds good but im in the middle of reading a phyllis reynolds naylor book she is awesome so after i will read this book.