100 Best YA Novels, Part 2

Here’s my continuing discussion of NPR’s Top 100 YA Books list. Yesterday, I talked about the books I like and would give increased recognition. Today, I’m complaining about the books I don’t like and that I think got too much acclaim in the rankings.

Here are the books I would bump lower on the list or leave off it:

27. Twilight series: It’s easy to imagine that four years ago, this series might have occupied the place that The Hunger Games does now (second). With the movie releases now winding down and the cheating drama between the stars, the Twilight hype seems to be fading. I’m glad. I don’t think it gives a good message. But I do understand how terribly seductive the novels are.

35. Go Ask Alice: I don’t remember if this was a real memoir or not. Either way, on pure literary value, I say no, it probably doesn’t belong on this list, and certainly not in the top half. It mostly seemed like it was just meant to scare you into avoiding drugs. And its cultural references were so far behind when I read it in high school that it wasn’t even very good propaganda. I’m sure the last few years haven’t been kind in that respect either. This is a book that made it on the list because of its history and story, because it was one of the first books to be marketed specifically for teenagers, not because it’s very fun to read.

38. A Separate Peace: I haven’t read this, but I knew people who were assigned this book for school and complained about it all day. Based on that, it probably doesn’t deserve this place.

48. The Inheritance cycle: I’ve read 2 or 3 of these books. I found them formulaic, overly concerned with action sequences and descriptions, and burdened with an annoying hero. There was even a “Luke, I am your father” moment. The series doesn’t deserve to be on the list.

49. The Princess Diaries series: I read 2 or 3 of these books. They deserve a lower spot on the list, because they lost my interest in trying to milk the series dry. The first book was fine, but there was no need to drag it out too long.

50. Song of the Lioness series: I’ve read and reviewed several of these books. I don’t think they deserve such a high spot based on literary merit. The character development and relationships are weak. They probably deserve to be on the list, because as I said in the review, books like Graceling could not have been written without this precedent.

54. Hush, Hush saga: I’ve read the first few of this series, and wasn’t super impressed. It’s problematic in some of the same ways that Fallen and Twilight are problematic. However, the final book could redeem the series.

67. Fallen series: Definitely does NOT deserve to be on the list. My reviews explain why: problematic gender issues, ridiculously hyperbolic language, and confusing religious implications.

68. House of Night series: I started to read this series but thought it got ridiculous and quit. Part of it was the series-dragging-on-forever problem, bu the biggest problem was a protagonist who’s too perfect and talented with an endless line of hot guys who want to date her. It doesn’t deserve to be on the list.

Another quibble: I would have put The Lord of the Rings together with The Hobbit as one entry. And if they must be ranked separately, I’d put LotR first.

The list also exposed a lot of gaps in my own reading. Here are the books on this list that I’ve been meaning to read for a while:

  • 4. The Fault in Our Stars
  • 17. The Princess Bride (in my stack this minute)
  • 21. The Mortal Instruments Series
  • 84. The Enchanted Forest Chronicles

And here are the books I added to my reading list thanks to seeing them here and liking the description:

  • 10. The Book Thief
  • 19. Divergent series
  • 36. Howl’s Moving Castle
  • 40. The Abhorsen Trilogy
  • 41. Dune
  • 56. It’s Kind of a Funny Story
  • 80. The Goose Girl (started it already)

100 Best YA Novels

Last month NPR released a list of the top 100 Young Adult books of all time. Judges narrowed the ballot down to 235 books from 1,200 nominated books, and over 75,000 people voted. So in many ways, this is a popularity contest, not necessarily a list of enduring classics, although several quite old books are on the list. YA lit, like everything popular with teenagers, is susceptible to trends and fast-dying crazes, so it would be interesting to see how many of these books are still on the list in 10 years.

I’ve read a lot of these books: 44 or 46 out of 100 (My stats are better if you look only at the top twenty; I’ve read 3/4 of those). So I wanted to weigh in on this assessment. The first exercise I ever did in my first class on literary criticism was to make a top 10 list with some classmates. Establishing the criteria for choosing which books are the best of all time means being explicit about value judgements, saying not just what is good and bad, but what is better and best and why. Since articulating an aesthetic is one of my main goals of the blog, it seems worthwhile to try a similar exercise.

One way that the list-writers and voters have made their task easier is by designating series (which proliferate in YA) as a single work. For the purpose of this kind of list, I think this is wise. Otherwise, many works would be excluded for the sake of awarding a few series multiple spots on the list. The rankings would turn into in-fighting about which installment of a particular series is really best, as each fan may have a different favorite.

First of all, I totally agree with the top three books. The Harry Potter series is as far as I’m concerned, the best YA series of all time. To Kill a Mockingbird is a timeless classic. I might bump it up to second place. The Hunger Games is a great set of books. The true test will be if this series stays on the list 10 years after its movies have gone to cable, though. I imagine it might drop a few spots, at least.

Here are the books on this list that I have reviewed:

I’m going to split my discussion of this list into two posts. Today, I’m going to talk about the books that I like, which I think deserve a better place on the list, and tomorrow, I’m going to talk about mediocre books that the list overrated. Here are the books I would bump higher on the list:

15. His Dark Materials series: I’d put this as #3, after Harry Potter and To Kill a Mockingbird. This series retells Paradise Lost in a way that could make a young reader interested in the classic, and shows the real stakes involved in what we believe about creation and salvation. It takes place in at least four beautifully described worlds, where polar bears, witches, and angels come to life. It blew my mind. Every time I think about and remember these books, they blow my mind all over again.

30. Tuck Everlasting: As one of the oldest books on the list and one of the founding novels of the genre of YA fantasy, I was surprised not to see this book place higher. I would have put it in the top 10. It’s a deceptively simple book, beginning with a question: What would it really be like to live forever?

44. The Dark Is Rising Sequence: I truly enjoyed this series about a boy who learns he’s one of a group of immortals that goes back to Merlin and Arthur’s time. There’s a lot of suspense, a poem that acts as a clue, a sense of adventure and danger, of history and myth.

45. Graceling series: The reviews make a longer case for the books, but in general, this is a feminist series with strong heroines who wield power wisely and have intriguing adventures and problems to solve. The language and the storytelling are top-notch.

57. The Gemma Doyle Trilogy: This story of magic, female friendship, addiction, and love is set in a Victorian boarding school. The ending has a great twist and a heartbreaking sacrifice (just how I like my endings).

63. A Ring of Endless Light: I read this book in high school and loved it so much that I was inarticulate talking about it in a college interview. It does such a great job of putting real existential problems in terms that a teenager can understand. It deserves a higher place in the list.

Here are some books that aren’t on the list that I’d like to add:

The Chaperone

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

This is the story of a middle-aged woman from Kansas who accompanies a young dancer to New York in 1922. The dancer is Louise Brooks, a real person who became a silent film star, a trendsetting and boundary-crossing flapper. The chaperone is Cora, who is more complicated than she appears. Skillfully managed flashbacks gradually reveal what’s really going on under Cora’s prim surface. The surprises in these flashbacks are pretty good, so I’ll be vague here to avoid spoilers. Cora’s time in New York changes her life, giving her the courage to demand some happiness for herself and causing some real upheaval back in Kansas. By the end of the book, she and the unusual family she gathers around herself have made a place for themselves that’s a tiny oasis of tolerance and love in the middle of repression. The way she is able to make her strange arrangement work, especially in this time period, is kind of inspiring.

The ending drags on a bit, telling about all of the social changes Cora witnesses as she grows old, as well as the changes in her family. But overall, this is a very enjoyable book about a heart opening to compassion, rich with period details and strong, descriptive sentences. In a way, Cora is the entire women’s movement in a microcosm. In the first scene we learn she was a suffragette, and by the end she’s supporting birth control and gay rights. The idea that a single person could change her opinions and attitudes so drastically in such a short time gives me hope for America.

Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall is the story of Thomas Cromwell, chancellor of King Henry VIII. It’s a fictionalized telling of Cromwell’s story, beginning with his childhood as the son of a drunk, abusive blacksmith. The novel skips over Cromwell’s youth as a soldier in Europe, and plunges into his career as a bureaucrat in Renaissance England. Throughout the novel, many people comment on Cromwell’s humble origins, questioning how he can wield power over dukes with royal blood. However, in almost every such scene Cromwell outsmarts the nobleman, showing how his superior skill and knowledge (he has a photographic memory), as well as his control of the country’s finances, give him an advantage in almost every situation. Cromwell began as an assistant to Cardinal Wolsey, a power broker of the early part of Henry’s reign. The lengthy novel focuses on Wolsey’s decline, Henry’s legal battle to marry Anne Boleyn, and the trial and execution of Thomas More.

Luckily, I know this story fairly well already, from history class, The Tudors, and Phillipa Gregory’s novels. I might have been a bit lost if that background wasn’t there to help me, but since I was able to remember even minor figures like Bishop Fisher, the Spanish ambassador Chapuys, and Thomas Cranmer, I could fill in gaps and make sense of oblique references. Readers with less previous knowledge might want to bookmark some wikipedia pages to refer to while reading.

Growing up Catholic, and living close to Thomas More College, I have only ever heard More spoken of with reverence. Wolf Hall offers an entirely different point of view on the saint. For the first half of the book he is Cromwell’s professional rival, and the two men are presented as opposites. Cromwell, a man thoroughly immersed in the practicalities of the material world, describes More’s self-flagellation, hair-shirt-wearing and other pious acts as excessive. Nevertheless, the two men understand each other in a profound way. The biggest surprise to me were the graphic scenes of More torturing heretics as part of an inquisition. Mantel does treat More with dignity, especially at his end, but also shows him to be a self-righteous hypocrite in many ways. One of my favorite lines was when Cromwell mused that in the future More would be seen as a martyr: “Depend upon it, in the eyes of Europe we will be the fools and the oppressors, and he will be the poor victim with the better turn of phrase.”

The language and sentences of this novel are one of its main pleasures. Since its ideal reader is one who already knows what is going to happen in the plot, attention is focused instead on the ways that the Tudor court is described, and on the powerful men’s dialogues. The audiobook I listened to had a particularly effective narrator, Simon Slater, who conveyed raw strength, cold calculation, and bitter irony remarkably well, adding flavor to an already fascinating story.

The Book of Blood and Shadow

The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman

This YA mystery has it all: international intrigue, romance, betrayal, gorgeous settings, rich history, metaphysical questions, puzzling codes, riddling clues, and good sentences. I had a ton of fun reading it. I’d highly recommend it to anyone who likes history and suspense. It’s been compared to The Da Vinci Code, but I think The Book of Blood and Shadow is less gimmicky and has a main character with more psychological depth.

In the book’s opening, Nora, the narrator, has discovered her best friend dead, and her boyfriend is the prime suspect. The murder is related to the scholarly research the friends had been doing along with their professor: translating the letters of a 16th-century girl whose father was alchemist to the Holy Roman Emperor. Nora feels connected to this girl in some strange way, and she hides some of this evidence from the police and investigates it on her own. The search takes her to Prague, where she finds the boyfriend, and another boy–who claims to be her dead friend’s cousin–finds her.

It turns out that the alchemist had discovered the Lumen Dei, the light of God, a machine that allows humans to communicate directly with the divine. And the two boys represent two warring factions with differing opinions on this machine–one wants to use it and the other wants to destroy it. A love triangle develops about halfway through the book, and is left kind of unresolved at the end, which is ok with me because this romance is a subplot and the main story felt plenty resolved.

I think the best thing Wasserman does is linking the suspense of the 400-year-old mystery and Macguffin-seeking with issues in the relationships between the characters, and whether or not they trust and forgive each other. When the interpretation of clues depends on whether or not a character is lying, and when the story from the Renaissance that’s unraveled has such personal significance for the protagonist, that adds another layer of meaning and keeps the story from feeling like a pointless scavenger hunt.

In the midst of all this spying, counter-spying, and digging for clues, Wasserman is able to use language expertly to heighten suspense and build a fascinating setting. There are great descriptions of Prague as a palimpsest, each century writing on top of the last. Nora’s fear, confusion, and emotional turmoil are related in a way that feels honest and psychologically realistic.

Even in a book with so much going on, Wasserman does not neglect to have her characters stop to discuss the metaphysical implications of a machine that allows God to speak directly to humans. However, she doesn’t let the story get bogged down with these questions of faith and ultimate reality. The ending reminded me of Raiders of the Lost Ark, conveniently allowing Wasserman to avoid having to actually answer these impossible questions.

Molly Ringwald Reading and Q+A

Last night Molly Ringwald gave a great reading of a part of her new novel in stories, When It Happens to You at the Nashville Public Library. She read from the story “My Olivia,” about a single mother and her son, who at six already identifies as a girl. The excerpt had some great lines about pregnancy the chasm between parents and non-parents. After the reading, she answered a lot of questions from the packed hall.

Some questions were about Ringwald’s movie career. She said that John Hughes encouraged her to write, but that he probably meant screenwriting, not novels and short stories. My favorite story that she told was that Hughes felt that he was bad at revision, that his work got worse as he changed it. Ringwald loved the first version of The Breakfast Club that she saw, but when they all met to film it there was a new version she didn’t like as much, and she told Hughes. He brought out all of his previous drafts and let the young stars read them all and pick the parts they liked best. Doesn’t it make sense that that movie came from such a unique collaborative writing process, with the actual teenagers giving real input?

What interests Ringwald in both acting and writing is characters, people who have flaws. She said she doesn’t write fantasies, but stories about good people who aren’t perfect. That makes me really excited to read the rest of this book. While waiting at the book signing, I read on in the story she’d started reading to the crowd, and the writing only got deeper and stronger.

Ringwald was sweet and gracious, and most of all, wise. I’m glad the “princess” grew up so well. It gives me hope for the next 15 years of my life.

Molly Ringwald at Nashville Library

My teenage self is happy to get to see a star of some favorite movies in person. Molly Ringwald is visiting the Nashville Public Library tomorrow!

The library hasn’t started booking movie stars for nostalgia’s sake. Ringwald has written a novel, and I’ve heard it’s good. One review compares it favorably to her Sixteen Candles costar Andrew McCarthy’s navel-gazing memoir, which has been called a man’s Eat, Pray, Love. I’d rather read a novel in short stories on the theme of betrayal, thanks.

Flourish

Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being by Martin E. P. Seligman

Positive psychology takes the opposite approach to traditional psychology. Instead of studying pathology and disease and things going wrong, it focuses on optimal health and on things going right. Instead of alleviating depression by bringing someone back to “normal,” positive psychologists hope to prevent and cure depression and some similar mental illnesses through a holistic approach aimed at reaching the person’s full potential. Instead of getting rid of a deficit, it’s about adding a positive, and the research in this book sounds like this approach is more effective than the more traditional ones.

Flourish marks the second wave of the positive psychology movement. The first wave just studied happiness, and the researchers found that studies on “life satisfaction” were distorted based on whether survey participants had had a good day or a bad one. This book and the research leading up to it, complicates the picture to talk about well-being instead of just happiness, and it’s a more complex, powerful, and comprehensive concept. Well-being consists of positive emotions, engagement, positive relationships, accomplishment, and a sense of meaning.

In the book there are a lot of stories about how Seligman has conducted his research, the people he has met and programs he has started. These include a prestigious school in Australia, a mental-health program for the Army, and the graduate program at Penn. Most of these stories are interesting, and the research behind them is told in a narrative style. There are also some examples of positive psychology assignments and exercises that any reader could do easily. There is a “Signature Strengths Test” in the book, and examples of some of the other assessments as well. Many other tests are available at the Penn website.

One of the most exciting parts of the book for me was hearing about the school that is built around positive psychology and the way students there learn character and optimism as well as academic content. It’s called the Penn Resiliency Curriculum, and it’s not available yet, unfortunately. I hope that someday I can see these materials, because the students I know could use help in this area. They need direction and focus, they need a sense of their own strengths and what they’re good at, they need to be able to bounce back and fight off the feeling of discouragement. The idea of explicitly teaching these mental skills to students excites me, so I hope this curriculum is made widely available soon.

Seligman takes some time to condemn Barbara Ehrenreich’s Smile or Die, which disparages the positive psychology movement. After reading this book, and rhetorically analyzing to death one of Ehrenreich’s previous endeavors, I feel that the research must be on Seligman’s side. However, I am sympathetic to some of Ehrenreich’s concerns. The worst moments in the book for me were very similar to the spiritual mumbo-jumbo I dislike so much. For example, an older single woman brought love (in the form of a husband) into her life through visualization exercises. Stories like that make me roll my eyes.

The thing that bothers me the most about about positive psychology is the potential for victim-blaming and thought policing. If optimism prevents cardiovascular disease, does that mean pessimists deserve to die? Does this research mean that pessimism is a vice, like smoking? Should people be scolded for negative thoughts the way we scold people for smoking? When optimism requires self-delusion, that bothers me.

However, because the concept of well-being is comprehensive, someone with well-being is unlikely to require much self-delusion in order to feel happy and optimistic. When you have positive relationships, a sense of meaning, engaging work, and significant achievements, happiness kind of comes along to that party on its own. And when those good things are happening, optimism becomes natural. I think Seligman would say that anyone struggling with this idea that optimism is self-delusion should start with the more concrete tasks of building relationships, engagement, meaning, and achievements, and wait for the good feelings and rosy outlook to follow. That seems fine and healthy to me. I like the idea of changing concrete things in your life to make yourself feel better, instead of just talking yourself into feeling better or changing your view of things, as cognitive therapy would have you do. Don’t get me wrong, I think cognitive therapy and similar treatments have their place, but they also have their limits. They can help you talk yourself from a cliff, but they can’t change the objective reality that made you want to go to the cliff. Positive psychology urges people to do just that.

The book ends with a discussion of the political implications of positive psychology and well-being. He says GDP should not be the most important measure of a nation’s success, because it’s not correlated with well-being. Nations should measure well-being and assess social policies based on their impact on well-being. He states a goal that by 2051, 51% of the world’s population should have a positive well-being, as measured by his assessments. I’ll be 66. I hope we can get there too, if not earlier.

Overwhelmed by Online Reading

I can’t be the only one this happens to. I come home from work in the afternoon and one of the first things I do is check facebook. (There might be adorable pictures of my year-old niece, who I haven’t seen in 11 days and won’t see for 30 more. Not that I keep track.) And as I scroll down, I see all the articles that friends have linked, and they look pretty interesting, so I click through to them. I’ll read that later, I think. I go back to facebook and repeat. This pile of windows accumulates in my browser, until there are so many that I can’t even see the icon that goes with each one.

All of that reading I have just assigned myself is in addition to the several blogs that I read just to know what’s going on in the world. The sheer volume of online reading that I feel I have to do just to keep up and be aware and able to converse intelligently about events and issues is absolutely overwhelming. When a congressman says something idiotic about rape, I want to watch all the drama go down as commentators tear him apart. I want to read the smart analyses of the latest gaffe-that’s-really-not-a-gaffe on the campaign trail. I want to hear about sexist new products and songs, about science and psuedoscience, about books, movies, and TV. Maybe a big part of the problem is that I’m interested in too many things.

The articles and links accumulate from day to day and I fall farther and farther behind, and, this sounds odd to say, but it stresses me out! This has happened purely because of choices I have made myself, with no outside influence or pressure. I have done this to myself; I take sole responsibility. I own the fact that it is ridiculous for me to add stress to my life in this way. But I hate the idea of missing anything. I can’t just forget or ignore an article, because what if it’s amazing? What if I don’t find out about the latest racist or anti-science outrage that Tennesseans have committed? What if I never learn about this new online education program and what this smart person thinks of it? I wouldn’t be clicking through if I weren’t interested, if I didn’t think that this knowledge could add something to my life in some way.

Maybe that attitude of being interested in everything, of pursuing knowledge for its own sake indiscriminately, is a fruit of my liberal arts education going to seed. I still believe that there’s no such thing as useless knowledge, and I’m glad I do. But that belief doesn’t exactly help me to manage my time when virtually infinite knowledge is at my fingertips all day and smart friends are recommending that I sample particular bite-size pieces of it.

A technical solution would be nice. Something that would work exactly like clicking to open a new browser window, except it would just store the link instead of cluttering my workspace. Something that would let me read every blog I follow in order, even if I fall 2 weeks behind, without scrolling endlessly to find where I left off. I’m sure the technology exists to create my dream widget. I tried RSS feeds and could not handle them. I tried to subscribe to just a couple authors on some of the bigger blogs with multiple authors, and it wouldn’t let me. I had to take them all or nothing. I messed with it for a couple days and gave up, resigned myself again to my current method of organization: nearly infinite browser windows.

This is definitely a First World Problem, I know. My life is so hard with my high-speed internet and my free time and my advanced reading skills. I should just accept that not everything online is worth reading and find a real issue to deal with.

And yet! The scandals! The laughs! The advice! The truth!

Does anyone have any solutions to this problem? How have you dealt with the impossible abundance of online reading?

The Body Image Project

A few months ago I wrote something about “looking in the mirror” for a prompt for a writers’ group. They liked it, so I submitted it to a blog on body image, and it was posted! It went up last week, but I didn’t see it until yesterday. Here’s a permanent link to the front page of The Body Image Project, which publishes personal narratives by women about their relationships with their bodies. It’s really worth reading. And here‘s a permanent link to my contribution to that conversation. And here’s a picture of me that kind of fits the post:

TBIP is anonymous, but I feel ok being open about owning this writing. Here’s my entry, in its entirety:

Age 27

“I don’t think you understand,” I cried to my mom. “I feel about my skin the way anorexics and bulimics feel about their bodies. Only I kind of envy them because at least they can do something about their weight. There is nothing I can do to make my skin clear up.” Later in the conversation, I told her she was a bad mother for not being ashamed to be seen with me in public. Logically, I knew I was talking crazy, but my rational mind obviously was not in charge at the moment. I was throwing a temper tantrum because I wanted my acne to go away, and some achingly young part of me expected that my mom could fix everything. She was baffled, and protested that she thought I was fine, that she had not taught me about makeup and hairstyles because she thought I wasn’t interested. I expected her to observe me close enough to know that this apparent disinterest was just clever camouflage. I was pretending I didn’t care because it was the only way I could deal with hating my looks so much. Now I know that she was so afraid that insisting I wash my face or wear foundation would give me a complex of some kind that she erred by moving to the opposite extreme, leaving me without any information or support.

People with acne are invisible in our culture in a way that even overweight people are not. Plus size models are now depicted in ads alongside skinny ones, but you won’t find any zits in popular culture. I take that back, there are exactly two places acne can be seen on TV: 1) ads for Proactiv, Clearasil and other acne products, and 2) in a comedy when a girl gets one zit the night before the prom and it’s a huge tragedy. (Usually, when the camera zooms in on her face, the zit is practically invisible.) In fact, now may be the worst time in history to have bad skin. Because of Photoshop and airbrushing, we’re bombarded with images of perfect skin that is unachievable even for people without persistent breakouts. These Photoshop face fixes look natural and are even harder to spot than the waist-whittling seen so often on magazine covers and in catalogs. Even though our current vogue for thinness feels eternal and ubiquitous, there have been historical periods and cultures that encouraged weight gain and viewed plumpness as a sign of beauty (as well as relative wealth and privilege). On the other hand, clear skin is so central and universal in beauty standards that there is no culture in the world that has ever seen pocked, inflamed skin as attractive. Our reaction to seeing a pimple-covered face is visceral revulsion. This is an ingrained evolved response that helped our ancestors avoid disease. Nowadays, we automatically think zits make someone look careless, unclean, immature. It’s a stereotype without a name or an -ism.

So it’s no wonder I felt the way I did about my face. After my meltdown, my mom did her best to help. She took me to the Clinique counter and a fancy salon for makeovers, to teach me how to use concealer. She took me to the first three of the six dermatologists I’ve seen in my life. It took forever to find something that worked, and periodically it would stop working, or my prescription would run out, or I’d move and need a new dermatologist, and in the meantime I’d be miserable.

At 27, I’ve discovered that acne isn’t something that you necessarily grow out of, but at least I have a routine that keeps the worst of it at bay: oral antibiotic, 5% benzoyl peroxide wash, 10% benzoyl peroxide cream for occasional breakouts, and four moisturizers to balance the dryness and prevent aging. I select foundation for maximum opacity, perfect shade match, and easy blendability–which means I must spend more at department store makeup counters than I’d care to admit; I can’t buy drugstore brands because you can’t test them.

I still microanalyze my skin. I hate its grainy texture, its oily sheen, the redness around my nose, the scars on my cheeks, my dull undereyes and the blue vein there that I’m convinced adds seven years to my age, the beginnings of wrinkles on my forehead, the hairs on my chin, the blackheads covering my nose. I spend way too much time looking closely at areas smaller than a square centimeter. But I also try to zoom out. My face is a pointilist or impressionist painting, and when I focus on these tiny flaws, I miss the whole picture. Standing back from the mirror, I can see the shape of my features, the perceptiveness of my eyes, my wry expression. I tell myself that this is all anyone else sees anyway. Usually I believe it.

Someday soon though, I’ll be ready to have a baby, and I will have to stop taking the antibiotic. I just hope the baby hormones and prenatal vitamins do good things for my skin, because I’m not sure I’ll be able to handle being a giant beach-ball-shaped person AND being covered in deep, painful whiteheads. I trust that I’m much more mature now than I was when I blew up at my mom, but the fact that I would react to the pain better now doesn’t mean I wouldn’t feel it.

My as-yet-unconcieved future daughter will have bad acne genes on both sides to deal with. I hope that by the time she’s a teenager there will be cure for acne, though I know how superficial that sounds when compared to the need for a cure for cancer and diabetes. I hope I can watch her more closely than my mom watched me, and know exactly what her interest or disinterest in self-enhancement means. I hope when I bring up the topic, my anxiety doesn’t rub off on her. The best way to make sure that happens is simply for me not to be anxious. Maybe the imperative to help my eventual daughter love her face as much as I will, is what will finally lead me to accept my own.