Allie Johnston's secret wish since the day she was twelve is to have her nose done. But she's never told anyonenot her parents, or even her best friend, Jen. But when she starts visiting a plastic surgery discussion board on the Web, she finds people who get her for the first time in her life. Her new friends include two girls her age who share her obsession with changing their facesbut for very different reasons. A sharply written, insightful book about learning to be happy with who we are.
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A Different Me
By Deborah Blumenthal
ALBERT WHITMAN & CompanyCopyright © 2014 Deborah Blumenthal
All rights reserved.
We have lobsters at the Palm to celebrate.
It's a fancy restaurant that doesn't look fancy. No giant vases with Polynesian flowers. No tropical fish tanks or cascading waterfalls. What it does have are steaks as big as saddles, brontosaurus-sized lobsters, and checks to match.
We don't come here a lot, but trumpet roll, it's my fifteenth birthday and my parents make a huge deal of it. I do a decent job of feigning surprise when the waiter in the pressed, tan jacket with his name stitched over his heart—Adam—appears at the table after they clear our plates. He holds out a wedge of devil's food cake on steroids. There's a flickering candle on top.
Suddenly our table is surrounded by jubilant waiters with barrel chests and voices as strong as opera singers. At the top of their lungs, they sing "Happy Birthday." I think they've added a few stanzas because it seems to go on and on and on. Conversation stops at the other tables, and everyone in the room stares at me because clearly I'm the first person in the world to have a birthday.
The center of attention is not a place I like to be.
I slump down in my seat ever so slightly, not that it helps. I'm drowning in the limelight. My hands reach up and form a tent around my mouth and nose. My face gets hot, which has nothing to do with the burning candle that's lighting my face from below like a beacon so that I must look like ... Never mind.
"Make a wish," my mom says.
"What you really want," my dad says.
He's obviously thinking a goal in life, not a Tiffany ring or Tory Burch flats.
I look across the table at Jen, my closest friend in school. Even she doesn't know.
I stare at the lone pink candle as if the sparkling flame holds some higher universal power, some cosmic force that can propel me wherever I want to go if I summon it. I close my eyes and hear the words inside my head.
This year, I want the surgery. This year, I want to turn into a different me.
Whoosh! I blow out the candle hard to make it happen.
"Don't tell," my mom says.
As if I would.CHAPTER 2
It's two in the morning. It's not my birthday anymore, but we're still up talking about everything in the world. I've closed the blinds so my bedroom is dark. Jen is on the futon, but neither of us is sleeping. It feels like we're alone on a private island. I light a small candle that heats drops of lavender oil, infusing the room with a sweet, calming perfume. It's cozy to talk in the safe, interior world of the dark.
"So, Allie, what did you wish for?" Jen says.
Can't jinx my wish. I reach for the obvious. "For Josh Ryan to dump Amber and fall totally in love with me."
"That's definitely what I'd wish for," Jen says. "When he passes me in the hall, I get short of breath." She snorts. "I don't even get the feeling that Amber likes him, you know? The world's biggest stud follows her around like a dog and she hardly looks at him. Can you imagine?"
"I can't imagine, but it's not like I haven't tried."
I lie back on my pillow and stare at the ceiling where I've glued a sky full of white plastic stars that glow an eerie yellow-green in the dark.
"I wonder how it would feel to be Amber Augusta Bennington. You think she wakes up every morning and looks into the mirror and knows she's one of the best-looking people on the planet?"
"Of course she does," Jen says. "I mean what could she possibly find not to like?"
She socks her pillow and slides down under the blanket. "You'd think being gorgeous would at least make her nice. But I swear she never talks to anyone. She never even smiles." Jen makes a sound like she's trying to force something horrible out of her throat.
"If other girls are catty, Amber Augusta Bennington is a mountain lion of bitchiness and attitude."
"Amen," Jen says.
"That is not to say I wouldn't trade my body for hers. Or turn down her translucent ivory skin or her long, platinum hair." I stop there, blow out the candle, and slide under the covers too.
What I don't say as my eyes start to close and I drift into sleep is that more than anything else in the world, I'd take Amber Augusta Bennington's small, slender, perfectly sculpted nose.
Just that. That would be all. Then everything in my life would be different. And better. I'd be popular and get invited everywhere by guys who look like Josh. People would never laugh about me behind my back, or in front of it, and I'd scale the walls of my prison of unhappiness and be free of it, once and for all.CHAPTER 3
After Jen leaves at eleven in the morning, my mom surveys the damage. She shakes her head as though she can't believe the nightmare in front of her.
"You have to clean up this room." She starts collecting magazines, clothes, and candy wrappers and holding them out to me like a prosecutor presenting evidence in a courtroom.
"This is clean? I'm sorry, but if it's not cleaned up by the end of the day, you're grounded." Her parting gesture is to try to slam a jammed dresser drawer closed. "What's behind here, a dead cat?"
She struts out and closes the door behind her. "Being grounded is not going to happen," I say, even though I know she can't hear me.
I start by hanging up stuff and throwing out old school papers. I wedge my hand behind the drawer and yank out a mashed push-up bra. I continue pulling out clothes that have fallen overboard, and under a wadded-up T-shirt, I find Mr. Potato Head.
My blast-from-the-past favorite toy.
I got him when I was five and I still love him. I used to play with the eyes, the stick-out ears, the broad nose, the too-small top hat, the spindly little arms, the big red mouth, and even his tiny, brown pipe, putting one part in the hole where another belonged. I'd laugh at how he looked with his eyes poking out of the ear holes and his nose stuck on top of his head like a hat.
When it comes to real people, though, there's little room for changing the way the features sit on the face. On mine, specifically, the nose doesn't get the same grade as my green eyes or my clear skin. It's too big and the bump needs to be chiseled off.
The weird thing is, I didn't realize that until I looked at a video of Field Day taken at summer camp when I was almost twelve. Everyone was laughing about how they looked in the three-legged race, but what I fixated on was how freakishly big my nose looked, especially with my hair pulled back in a ponytail.
At one point the camera was almost in our faces and we were laughing hard, and then I turned so that I was in full profile. My nose seemed to fill the whole screen. It was gross. I looked at myself and felt sick. The camera abruptly moved on to another group of campers, and then it was in their faces, but I looked away. I didn't want to watch anymore. All I could think about was how I looked. Up until that moment, I never saw myself. I mean, I never truly knew what I looked like.
I was going to tell my mom, but I didn't. As crazy as it sounds, I looked at her differently after that because she has a bump too, only hers seems to go with her face more than mine does. Anyway, she's my mom and older. Looks don't matter as much to her.
But the hardest thing is when you realize that other people notice too. That it's not just you. You become a perfect target.
I was in a coffee shop with Jen and Katie a while ago. Two guys came in and sat opposite us. They were doing mature things like sticking french fries up their noses and snorting. Then they started looking over at us and laughing.
"Nose job," one of them said, staring right at me. His friend laughed and then punched him. "Shut up," he said.
But it was too late.
I pretended it was nothing, but my face couldn't hide it. "You wear your heart on your sleeve," my mom once told me. I wanted to cry, but I couldn't say anything or get up and run out, so I sat there, powerless to change the wounded look that I knew was on my face.
Jen looked at me and then back at them. "Assholes," she said. Katie pretended to barf.
I left my half-eaten hamburger and we asked for the check.
Another time I was in Bloomingdale's looking at makeup, because I'm obsessed with it, always looking for new products to try. I was walking down the aisle when a makeup artist held out a bottle of a new foundation.
"You have beautiful skin," he said. "Would you like to try some? We're having a special offer with a free makeup kit today."
I hesitated, and that was enough encouragement for him. "Sit down, please," he said. "It will only take a moment."
The backless stool was near the aisle so everybody walking by could see me, like I was on display. He dotted the foundation on my forehead and cheeks and kept telling me how it made my skin look even smoother. He kept saying, "Beautiful skin, beautiful." The corners of my mouth turned up into a smile. I unclenched my fists. Confession: I didn't get compliments, and even if he was a salesman for the company, he acted like he meant it.
Only a moment later he said he'd put a darker shade down the sides of my nose and a lighter stripe down the center to "camouflage it just a bit." That was it. He was trying to hide my nose and make it look smaller, but makeup couldn't do that. His comment threw me, and I started to sweat.
I wanted to get up and run, only I couldn't because he was staring down at me, working so intently on trying to fix me, to make me look better—but it was useless. I got so hot in my heavy coat that I thought I would faint. I never told anyone what happened because I couldn't deal, but I kept replaying it in my mind, and it made me squirm.
A few days after my fourteenth birthday, I planted the idea for the surgery. I remember the time because my birthday cards were still hanging over the slats of the doors between the kitchen and the dining room.
By then I had read stories online and in magazines about girls who had their noses done and how it totally changed the way they looked and felt about themselves. It didn't seem like a big deal at all. They went to a doctor's office in the morning, and by the afternoon, they were home in their own beds again. They weren't movie stars or models, the ones I read about. They were average girls like me.
One, two, three. I took a deep breath, then I tiptoed up behind my mom.
"When I'm a little older, I want to have my nose done."
There it was. Out.
I held my breath and waited.
She was emptying the dishwasher, about to put a blue-flowered dinner plate up on the shelf in the cabinet. Instead she reached back and turned to face me, holding the plate in front of her like a shield. A curious look crossed her face, as if she was trying to get a fix on what I was saying.
"Duh, because I hate my nose."
"That's a big decision. It's surgery."
"I realize it's a big decision and 'it's surgery.'"
"Well, you're too young now anyway," she said, obviously relieved the issue could be put off.
How did she know?
The sound of clattering dishes ended the discussion. She was caught short and couldn't deal. I could have insisted or brought my dad into the conversation, but what would have been the point? Fifteen or sixteen was the earliest age most doctors would do it anyway.
At least she knew now. The seed was planted.CHAPTER 4
I head out of the library after school on Monday and walk toward the front door, going down a long corridor past a wall of grass-green lockers with dangling combination locks. At the end of the row I spot Amber's locker. You can't miss it—it's the one with a picture of her on it. A giant picture. I remember the day she put it up. Jen and I were walking out of the cafeteria when suddenly she froze.
"Look," she said, grabbing my arm. "One of Amber's modeling shots is covering her entire locker door like wallpaper."
It was gridlock in the corridor with everyone looking. Josh practically humped her locker door.
"You'd think it was the Mona Lisa," Jen said.
"That may have been the look she was going for."
"Look at her eyes," Jen said. "Staring into the distance as though she's pondering some galactic mystery."
As I study Amber's picture I'm struck by the confidence level it takes to do something like that because I could never in a million years cover an entire locker door with a giant blow-up of myself. That basically explains everything about confidence and how it lets you show yourself off to the world without the least bit of hesitation or concern about how it might come back to you.
It's clear to me now that the world is made up of only two kinds of people: those who are totally okay with posting pictures of themselves the size of the Great Wall of China and B-listers like me who are self-effacing because their faces turned out far from ideal, due to some inexplicable roll of the genetic dice.
Fortunately, I have control over some things in my world—like school. So I work hard, and except for math, my grades are decent, especially in English. But a handful of kids in our class don't get A's or even B's, sending the class average south, even though Mrs. Meyers never takes the low road by giving surprise quizzes or slipping words we haven't gone over onto tests.
This morning, the towering Mrs. M.—nearly six feet tall, wide as a battleship, and shrouded in a shapeless dress with sturdy oxford shoes from World War I or something—stands in front of the room looking out before removing her tomato-red bifocals.
This is a sign that she has something major to tell us—and it's not that we're moving on to a new act in Julius Caesar. I imagine it will be a pep talk about how the class has to snap to and get our grades up. Since it's only the middle of the semester, there is still enough time, praise the Lord.
My mom heard at the last Parents' Association meeting that they were talking about giving the teachers with the highest-scoring classes a year-end bonus, so I'm expecting a rally-the-troops speech.
But it doesn't turn out that way. Mrs. M. has a plan.
"The stronger students will mentor those who need help," she says, clasping her hands together, proud of her innovative idea. "And the effort will benefit both members of each team."
I will be doing Mrs. M.'s job.
I will be stuck trying to help a perpetual zoner, in addition to doing my own work.
"We'll divide the class into mentors and students," Mrs. M. says, her enthusiasm already starting to grate on me. That's the signal for me to eyeball the room, guessing who I might get paired with and how this may play out. Just a few of the possibilities:
Josh Ryan. Tall, dirty-blond, intensely hot and definitely ready for his close-up. (Think half-naked greeter model at the door of Abercrombie, his summer job.) But Josh's chiseled body doesn't make up for the fact that he's not only terrible in English, but also terribly unavailable because he's going out with Amber. He might as well have his forehead tattooed "Private property."
David Craig. A dick who carries a camera 24/7, dresses like a goth, and wears black eyeliner because he has this thing about Billie Joe Armstrong. He fancies himself a photographer because he once won an amateur snapshot contest. Now he thinks it's cool to stick his camera in someone's face while they're blowing their nose or dying from an asthma attack. Perpetual picture-taking obviously takes priority over studying English.
Harry Thomas, aka the sicko. Not only is he bad in English, but he's also a gag-worthy human being who picks his nose and has a bizarre fascination with insects. Excels at bio, especially when they murder and autopsy frogs.
Janelle Haney, a transfer student from a school somewhere in the Midwest that was horrible. Even though she works hard, she's behind by at least a grade.
Kirk Morrison. A star football player who's academically challenged and views school as an annoyance that gets in the way of kickoffs. Every girl in the school would like to dropkick him because of the slimy way he treats them.
I'm so busy casing the room that I don't hear Mrs. M.
"Alexandra," she says impatiently, even though everyone else calls me Allie. Before she utters another word, I know exactly who I'm not getting because I see her piercing eyes zero in on the last row, and that is not where Josh Ryan is sitting. "You work with Amber."
I look at Mrs. M. and shrug. "Sure." I turn to look at Amber, who squeezes her eyes shut and shakes her head slightly.
Excerpted from A Different Me by Deborah Blumenthal. Copyright © 2014 Deborah Blumenthal. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
My life would be perfect if…..I had a better job, if I had more education, or perhaps if I had could just say no more often. Most people have said or have had thoughts about having a perfect life but for Allie her perfect life would start if she had Amber’s nose. This slender, straight feature sits perfectly on Amber’s face and people are not drawn to its appearance, now if only Allie had one just like it. Allie has been obsessed with Amber’s nose for a while and while she has brought up the idea of surgery to her parents that’s all it’s been, just a subject nothing more. Rhinoplasty, typing these words into her computer’s search engine gives Allie hope. Connecting with two other teens with the same desire to have nose surgery, she finds a connection. From a desperate Allie, I feel brightness and spunk move into Allie; she comes alive and rejuvenated as she connects with her new friends. The three girls have a lot to talk about and their future plans all point to the same destination. At school, being paired up with Amber for tutoring, their teacher creates an incredible experience for the two girls. It’s amazing how their teacher paired these two girls together on her own. For it’s more than just an education Amber receives, it’s an eye-opener for both of them. Allie also gets an eye-opener from David, the annoying boy with the camera. His obsession with his camera, the way he’s always snapping pictures, getting his camera in everyone’s way starts to get on Allie’s nerves. David waits, he’s patient, being a photographer he’s used to waiting for the perfect moment, for when the perfect moment arises, David will then make his move.