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My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters: A Review

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Remember Jennifer Grey from Dirty Dancing? Back then she was a cute young actress with a rather distinct nose that gave her a unique face. In the 1990s she had a nose job that so altered her appearance that she was unrecognizable with the result that her career was arguably over. I found a site with two of the most unflattering pictures of Grey I have ever seen, but they illustrate my point. The change is so great that it's hard to say what the nose job actually accomplished because the before and after photos look like different people.

While reading My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters (2009) by Sydney Salter, I kept thinking of one thing. That thing was Jennifer Grey's nose job and how it totally changed her life in a not-so-great way.

For soon-to-be-senior Jory Michaels, it all comes down to her nose. Good old, Great-Grandpa Lessinger’s famous nose. The one Jory never grew into. The one that makes people ask her beautiful parents if Jory was adopted. It wouldn’t matter so much if Jory was some brilliant scholar who’d written six novels, created her own web-based business, and spoke fluent Chinese.

But Jory doesn’t do any of those things.

No matter how desperately she wants to be one of the beautiful people, or at least one of the smart people, or even just an athletic person; Jory is none of those things. Instead, she is the mediocre sheep in a family of beauty and talent. All, Jory is certain, because of her big nose–another outlier in a family with cute, small noses (except for Great-Grandpa Lessinger).

Like Jennifer Grey, Jory is convinced that a nose job will solve her problems and ultimately make her life better in every possible way. She will be smarter and prettier, her family will appreciate her the way they worship her little brother, and her gorgeous crush will finally realize that she is perfect for him. In other words, with a new nose, Jory will be as perfect as everyone else in her life.

To guarantee that she and “Super Schnoz” will part ways before September, Jory takes a summer job as a cake delivery person to fund her cosmetic surgery. She also begins a nice nose notebook to be ready for the big day.

It seems like everything is going Jory's way until an unlikely acquaintance, an unfortunate driving mishap or two . . . or three, and other (natural) disasters force Jory to rethink everything she thought she knew about her nose, herself, and the perfect people she wanted so badly to emulate.

Set in Reno, Nevada My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters offers an interesting perspective on cosmetic surgery. Her hyperbolic fantasies about Super Schnoz and her new dream nose illustrate the irrational hopes Jory has pinned to the possibility of plastic surgery. At the same time, as the story progresses Jory begins to realize that there might be more to reinventing herself than restructuring her nose. That thread, set against the backdrop of friend-drama, and the social-climbing ambitions of her ever-dieting mother, gives this ostensibly quick read a fair amount of depth.

I enjoyed a lot of this book. At times the characters read younger than I would have expected for sixteen and seventeen-year-olds, but that likely says more about who I was at that age than anything else. Jory also reminded me a lot of Georgia Nicholson with her singular focus on boys but in a far less annoying way. I also had issue with the way friendships were treated. It must be the latin in me but I would have held a grudge a lot longer than Jory (and other characters in books I've read recently), but again that's probably just me.

I loved Jory's humor throughout the narrative, which made her lack of self-esteem at the beginning of the novel bearable. As part of a mother-daughter jewelery making duo, I also loved that beading came up in the story and was handled so realistically. At the start of the novel I will admit that I was not sure I could like Jory as a character, but by the end of the book I not only liked her, I was proud of her. My only disappointment was that the book didn't go on a little longer so I could spend more time with this new and improved heroine. Beyond that, My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters is a clever, humorous book about how finding beauty sometimes involves more introspection than anything else.

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