by Danielle Steel
This audiobook caught my eye at the bookstore, and I thought it sounded like a book my friend S. and I would enjoy (we’re both “big girls”). I decided to try the audiobook out for myself (for free, from my amazing library) before deciding if I should buy it for her birthday, and I am very glad I did, because it wasn’t as exciting as it sounded on the back cover.
Victoria’s parents are attractive, rich, and awful. Her father is narcissistic, and her mother supports his every decision. They value appearance more than anything else: physical appearance, like their shared traits of tan skin, big brown eyes, smooth dark hair, perfect noses, and slender figures, and the social appearance of being more wealthy and better connected than everyone else. When their first-born daughter is born with genes that seem to have skipped a few generations, from her chubby body to her big nose, pale skin, blue eyes and blonde curls, they cast her as an outsider. Her name, Victoria, was maliciously given to her by her father, who thought that her sub-standard looks were comparable to that of the late British monarch. In contrast, Grace, their second born, is the perfect combination of both her parents’ good looks, and is subsequently given all the love and attention in the family, leaving Victoria nothing but their criticism and scorn. Amazingly, Victoria doesn’t become jealous of her sister; they are best friends and confidantes despite their family situation. This book follows Victoria throughout her life, as she struggles to accept her figure amid her parents cuts and jibes.
I have a similar story to Victoria. While I look like my parents, and my sister looks like me, I’m a decade older than her, and since her birth, I was always considered to be the ‘trial child’. They screwed up a lot when they were raising me, and just as I was reaching my difficult pre-teen years, they got a replacement child to start all over with again. Suddenly, I was cast-off and all the love and attention went to her. Unlike Victoria - and much more realistic for situations like this - I was very jealous of my sister, and we’ve never gotten along because of it. How could we? The things I accomplished in school, for example - receiving straight A’s, getting on the honor roll and Dean’s list - weren’t praised at all. My sister, meanwhile, got a Wii the first time she made honor roll (with all B’s, might I add), and as she’s gotten older, the gifts have gotten more extravagant. As far as looks go, I’m a “big girl,” too, and while my sister isn’t exactly thin, my mother is always hovering around to tell me, “She’s skinnier than you, she’s taller than you, she’s blonder than you, she’s prettier than you.” Unlike Victoria, who just shrinks back every time her parents strike her down, though, I always throw it right back in their faces, “Well, I’m smarter than her, and that counts for a lot more these days.”
From my relationship with my family, I found a lot of the stuff Victoria was going through to be a bit unrealistic. I mean, I know we’re all different and cope in different ways, but Victoria was practically paralyzed with fear when it came to having dinner with her family, because her father was always there to make jibes about her weight. She still attended the family dinners, though, and sat by quietly as her family attacked her size. And whenever she heard a mean comment, Victoria would run to the freezer and gorge out on ice cream. I mean, I’m all for comfort foods, and I eat my feelings, too, but I’m not the sort to hear “You’re fat,” and then stuff my face right in front of the person who insulted me.
The pacing of the book was off. It felt like the first two decades of her life were breezed over while simultaneously taking a long time to cover. The first few discs were about her childhood and high school years, but nothing really significant happened in them. The real meat of the book was supposed to take place when she was in New York, teaching. Nothing too remarkable happened there, either, though. I just felt like I kept waiting for a big moment, for something big to happen, and it never did. Four years of Victoria’s 20’s, in fact, were completely skipped over: from Grace’s starting college to her graduation. It was like the book was a really bland overview of her life, only going into details about things that were damaging to her self-esteem.
There was a lot of time and attention given to her therapy sessions, where she was able to recognize that her parents were at fault for not loving her, and their rejection of her had nothing to do with her own adequacy, which was good. And at the end, she starts to get better and has a more positive outlook on life, which is great for her. I was just hoping there would be more ‘oompf’, you know?
Bottom line: while I was glad to see a book covering something I could personally relate to, I felt it was boring and unrealistic.