Review: Skin

Title: Skin
Author: Donna Jo Napoli
Genre: YA

Rating: 2/5 stars

This book is really hard for me to gather all my thoughts on, and I can't even really decide whether I like it or not. It had an interesting premise, and it wasn't what I expected it to be at all. When I say that it defied my expectations, there were some aspects I liked and some I really didn't.

 Sep is a very average teenager at an average high school. Then one day she wakes up and her lips are white. She has no idea why, and decides to cover it up with lipstick. But how long can she hide when the white begins to spread? The first part of the book made me think there was something supernatural or inexplicable going on with the white patches, and I was relieved that there was a perfectly good explanation for it. There were a lot of moments where Sep felt helpless and wretched because people would judge her for the white patches on her skin. At one point she asks her mother how she will ever get a job if people are repulsed by her during her interview. That one little moment was a startling because of the truth in what Sep says; although we like to pride ourselves on being appreciative of all people and giving everyone equal opportunity and respect, there are often unconscious prejudices and disgust against people who look different or act differently from the norm. I liked how the author subtly prompted a discussion about how much our physical appearances matter in our success both professionally and socially.

 As Sep learns to deal with her white patches and their repercussions, she meets many new mentors. There are the pink tattoo girls, the lesbians who have tattooed their ankles in an act of pride and solidarity in who they are. There is Slinky, a woman at a makeup store who knows a lot about wanting to be beautiful and wanting to hide. There's also Sep's yoga/dance teacher, who teaches her to learn to love her body and be proud of who she is.

 I didn't like the other aspects of the novel so much. Basically Sep feels insecure that no one will love her if she has white patches on her skin and decides she needs to get a guy ASAP. She finds Jason Wining, her childhood friend whom she hasn't talked to in years, more than willing. The book was more explicit than I thought it would be, and it really didn't need to be. I thought Sep's behavior and her desperation for physical love was disgusting; having recently been educated about slut shaming, I will do my best to keep this as neutral as possible. My major problem wasn't so much that Sep wanted to sleep with a guy, but that she felt like she had to use someone to feel better about herself. It was a very selfish and irresponsible thing to do, and in the end Jason calls her out on it, but she doesn't seem to have much shame.

 One other thing that bothered me (and this will probably only bother me) is the treatment of Hinduism in the book. The yoga teacher brings up Hinduism a lot, and there were a lot of references to mythology. I don't mind when authors take artistic license and add their own spin to my mythology and religion, but I demand respect. At one point Sep makes a comment along the lines of "I'd like to punch Vishnu [a Hindu god] awake and yell that in his big flabby ear." I understood that Sep was angry, but I was offended by how much she belittled a culture (my culture). Again, this is a hard book to review because it makes some good points but it also has its low points. I am settling for a two star rating.

 *An ARC was provided by the publisher via NetGalley for an honest review*

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