________________ CM . . . . Volume XXI Number 8 . . . . October 24, 2014


The Art of Getting Stared At.

Laura Langston.
Toronto, ON: Razorbill/Penguin Canada Books, 2014.
293 pp., hardcover, $18.99.
ISBN 978-0-670-06750-3.

Grades 8-12 / Ages 13-17.

Review by Kim Aippersbach.

**** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



Kim steps towards me. She's so close I see the faint wrinkles radiating out from her eyes, a thin line of foundation that she didn't blend along her jaw. "My God, Sloan." Before I can move away, she reaches out and touches the spot just above my ear. "Why are you pulling out your hair?"

"I'm not!" My voice sounds strange, like I'm speaking through a tin can. "It's not what you think, okay. It's

"Then what is it?"

Is that concern in her green eyes? For a second I think so, and I'm tempted to tell her everything, but when she adds a sharp, "What's going on?" I snap back to reality. Kim is horrified and disgusted. As I expected.

Sixteen-year-old Sloan would love to study film production, and when her class video project goes viral, she is invited to apply for a scholarship at a highly-rated film school. To help her create a video for the application, her film teacher partners her with Isaac, but Sloan thinks he's an unreliable flirt, and she has to fight against her attraction to him as they work closely together planning and filming. Then Sloan discovers a bald patch on her head. She is quickly diagnosed with alopecia, a mysterious auto-immune disease that could cause her to lose all her hair. Embarrassed and terrified, Sloan is determined to keep her condition a secret, but once her stepmother, Kim, finds out, it seems everyone will soon know. Kim tries to help, but, because Sloan has always thought her stepmother was shallow and obsessed with appearances, she doesn't trust her efforts. As more of her hair falls out, Sloan has to go to greater lengths to disguise what's happening, and her friends begin to wonder what's going on with her. At the final shooting for her video, her hat is pulled off, and her patchy skull is revealed to a crowd full of cameras. When the truth comes out, Sloan discovers that her best friend will stick by her, that her stepmother is genuinely concerned for her and may know what she's talking about, and that Isaac really does like her-enough to shave his own head to show his support.

      The Art of Getting Stared At uses a particular disease, alopecia, to explore the very adolescent obsession with beauty and being judged on our appearance. Langston portrays Sloan with painful honesty. Sloan thought she didn't care how she looked, thought she was better than that, but she makes stupid decisions and risks alienating everyone she cares about because she is so afraid of what people will think of her hair loss. When she has to choose between editing out her embarrassing appearance in the video and using the footage to make a significant point, she is able to gain enough emotional distance to accept her altered appearance. Sloan's relationship with a child in the cancer ward where she volunteers adds another level to her understanding of inner versus outer beauty and what really matters in the end.

      All the characters in The Art of Getting Stared At are interesting and well-rounded with understandable motivations-both teenagers and adults. Even the mean girls are more than just stereotypes, and Sloan's relationships with her mother, father and stepmother are believably complicated. The adults have their own lives that Sloan doesn't always understand or even know about. Isaac makes a swoon-worthy love-interest: he may be slightly too good to be true, but their relationship progresses with realistic awkwardness and misunderstanding (and just a bit of really hot kissing).

      Langston has a good ear for dialog, and first-person narrator Sloan has an authentic adolescent voice. The progress of the disease and the approaching deadline for the film school application create page-turning tension during Sloan's compelling emotional journey.

      The Art of Getting Stared At would make a great classroom read; there are thematic and stylistic depths to be explored, and the topic of appearances is endlessly applicable to middle school and high school students. Teens will also pick up this book on their own for the likable and relatable main character, the interesting scenario, and the very charming Isaac.

Highly Recommended.

Kim Aippersbach is a writer, editor, and mother of three in Vancouver, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

Next Review | Table of Contents for This Issue - October 24, 2014.

CM Home
| Back Issues | Search | CM Archive | Profiles Archive