Crane, E.M. Skin Deep. 2008. New York. Delacorte Press.
High School student, Andrea Anderson, is moving through her days as a spectator of life. She has no hobbies, friends, or special interests. An only child of a divorced hospital worker, she spends most of her time thinking about how scripted her life is and feeling a lack of control. One day, her mother asked her to go to a neighbor’s home to take the dog out because the owner was in the hospital. This singular event would change Andrea’s life forever. Striking up a friendship with the owner of the dog, Honora opens Andrea’s eyes to a world of color, depth, and teaches her to embrace who she is and challenges Andrea to take chances in life.
Written in the style of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, this first effort by Crane will be well received by the middle school reader. The storyline moves a little slowly at times, but the reader will relate to Andrea’s descriptions of school life. In the early pages of the story Andrea draws a mental picture of the high school, the cliques, and the teachers in amusing narrative.
At one point, the author introduces the suicide of a much belittled teacher and the fallout experienced by the students and the parents. This story is told through Andrea’s observations and is filtered by her own view of her lackluster existence. Later when Andrea is befriended by a dying woman who hires her to be her assistant, the theme of death and how one handles it is again approached. This time the filter is that of the well-adjusted artist and the advice she gives Andrea.
Other themes in the story are addressed as a popular girl, Ashley-with-the-bad-haircut, befriends Andrea which raises her self-esteem. This guides Andrea into memories of better times and provides hope that the future can be brighter.
The final element that enters Andrea’s life is the introduction of a new father figure in the person of her mother’s new boyfriend. She realizes that some people need to be in a relationship to be happy and is glad that her mother has found someone to love her in a way that Andrea never could.
This is a coming of age story that can be recommended to girls in any stage of self-realization. The author leaves out some depth of character in the main players on Andrea’s invisible stage that would have added to the story. This book may get lost in the sea of coming of age novels, but is worth recommending to girls who are struggling with finding their place in their own story.
“…Often lovely prose and a touching (if unoriginal) relationship with mentor Honora make it clear why this won the 2006 Delacorte Press Contest for a First Young Adult Novel, but in a field filled with female coming-of-age stories, there is little to set this one apart. Still, fans of Deb Caletti and Sarah Dessen will probably enjoy it, and readers can hope that Crane’s next plot lives up to her prose.” (Fiction. YA)
Kirkus Book Reviews
“There are many young people who feel the way the main character in this book does. Andrea is not a tragic character, she is simply ordinary (in her mind). Being ordinary is difficult—especially while in school, where only the “large” characters get noticed. But being ordinary is also a gift, because it allows a person to decided who he or she will become—a choice that the “large” characters have already had made for them. That is what this book is about.
Although the story is book-ended by sad events, the overall feeling of the book is hope, discovery, renewal. This is an excellent read for young and old alike. I highly recommend it to all.” Paula