Reviewed by Jaglvr for TeensReadToo.com
It's always been Shelby, her mom, and her three sisters. The story is told through Shelby's eyes. She is the second eldest of the four. They live in an untraditional family, to say the least. Each of the sisters has a different father. And they each have different ancestry, as well. One is half Japanese, half Italian. One is half Japanese and half Chinese. One is half Japanese and half Anglo. And Shelby is all Japanese.
Their mom has always been on the quest for eternal beauty and the rich husband. None of the girls' fathers have satisfied her, even though Lakey's father, Larry, wants to marry her. It's only after learning of Larry's engagement to another woman that Helen realizes what she could've had.
Even with the bizarre family ties, the girls and their mother are close. They do everything together. And though maybe unconventional, their mother has done a good job raising the girls. It's only after her mother is in a serious car accident that their world crumbles. Since none of the girls are legally adults, Helen must arrange homes for the girls while she recovers.
It is decided that each of the girls will go to live with their respective fathers. Shelby has only seen her father a handful of times. Jiro is a reserved man, living a quiet life in Arkansas. Except for the fact that he dresses terribly uncool, as the summer unfolds, Shelby realizes he's not a bad man, just unknown to her.
It's Maddie that has the worst situation. Her father, Mr. Bronson, has been legally trying to obtain custody of her, stating Helen is an unfit mother. He's a stern disciplinarian, and Maddie's personality starts to disappear, living in his oppressive home.
When notified that their mother may die, all the girls are flown home to be with her. The girls take matters into their own hands when they fear that they could be permanently separated if the worst happens. They will do anything they can to keep their family unit together, and to save Maddie.
Ms. Kadohata writes a powerfully moving novel of four girls struggling to keep the lives they've always known. Separated from each other, they can barely survive. Looking in from the outside, the reader knows what is going on, but feels powerless to stop the momentum that is driving their lives. After reading OUTSIDE BEAUTY, the reader will come away with a wonderful feeling of family, and of how love can pull you through anything.