It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know how a Cinderella Story ends, so I was pleasantly surprised by how much of Paul Rudnick’s Gorgeous managed to subvert my expectations.
Becky Randle is given an unusual gift when her reclusive mother dies in the trailer home they share. She learns that her mother was once a fashion model for the designer Tom Kelly (a brand as much as a man in the Calvin Klein manner), and Kelly is offering to make plain Becky the most beautiful woman in the world. Not a makeover, not dressing her up fancy, actually changing her into the most beautiful woman in the world, wearing three of his dresses.
That (Spoilers?) Becky realizes that Rebecca, her avatar of beauty that transforms back into basic Becky when unobserved, isn’t all she’s cracked up to be and wants to just be herself isn’t surprising. No Prince Charming is gonna fall for the most beautiful girl in the world only to turn her down once her true nature is revealed, so the happy ending isn’t shocking either. But the book doesn’t lack for surprises; for instance, (REAL SPOILERS, PROCEED WITH CAUTION) the first presumed suitor we meet, star of a major film franchise, crush object to teenage girls everywhere… yeah, not straight. The nature of Kelly’s mentorship (he’s equal parts drill seargeant and fairy godmother) and her mother’s rejection of the fashion industry were also well drawn and less than obvious. And while not exactly a surprise, Becky’s best friend hits all the right notes – Rocher is from the same small town with low expectations for its citizens as Becky, and her being named for a “fancy” foreign candy found at any drug store tells you a ton about who she is before we get to know her. Loved by parents who want better for her but lack the experience to dream big.
Anyway, I really loved this book, and am looking forward to re-reading it.