Duckling Ugly
Neil Shusterman

"Beauty is only skin deep," has never meant more to Cara Defido than it does now. Cursed with a hideousness that causes people to shutter and mirrors to shatter, Cara would describe her looks as a black hole, an ugularity. Not your typical teen who is faced with the occasional blemish or an irregularly proportioned nose, Cara is known throughout the county for her repulsive appearance...that and her uncanny ability to spell virtually anything. After receiving a mysterious letter that seemed to call her from deep within, Cara travels to a place unlike any she has ever known. There, she is given the chance to dispose of her horrendous face and know true beauty. The repercussions of this decision are monumental as Cara learns that beauty may cast a spell on those around her in more ways than one...but who knew beauty could be such a curse?

Cara Defido is the daughter of a used-car salesman who blames the demise of his empire on his daughter's face of horror. The story begins with Cara being the butt of a terrible joke at the county spelling bee where she suffers even more for being an ugularity. As the story continues, Cara befriends Miss Leticia, the old woman who lives at Vista View, Flock Rest's cemetery. Miss Leticia sees inside Cara like no one she has even known and tells Cara that she has a great destiny no matter what anyone tells her. Around this time, Gerardo, a boy from school also begins somewhat of a friendship with Cara. He's the only other person outside of her family and Miss Leticia who sees that there is more to Cara than meets the eye. Cara receives a letter on a the richest, most beautiful stationary she has ever seen. The letter only contains three words, but after a strange turn of events and one fateful night, that letter takes her to a place that she could only dream of. Cara follows the pulling she has felt ever since she received her letter. There she meets Aaron, who turns out to be a blast from the past, and Abeulo who has a strange essence about him. While in the valley of De Leon, Cara is given the opportunity to become more beautiful than could ever be imagined and a chance at a life that seems unreal. While there though, she feels the need to return home and say her final goodbyes, only her goodbyes turn out to be a mission of revenge. Her revenge, although sweet, has an unbelievable backlash and causes Cara to realize that she must return to De Leon. Upon her return, Cara realizes that not everything is as it once was and that beauty, however great, may sometimes cast a spell that cannot be reversed.

I think this book can apply to anyone who has ever wished to perfect their appearance. Somehow we think that if our outward appearance is perfected, that all of our problems will be taken care of. This story causes us to think twice about that philosophy on life. In a society where such value is placed on appearance it is easy to see the parallels between this book and the reality in which we live. I think this would be a great discussion piece for older students. Asking students to answer the tough questions Cara faces and asking them to connect the book to reality are excellent uses of this particular piece of literature. It definitely would cause students to look behind the literal meaning of the words and use it to compare and contrast with their own lives. Because virtually everyone I know has something about their appearance they long to change, it would be interesting to have students, in a safe environment, open up and share these things with one another. From a Christian perspective, I think this book had some interesting references to our faith and would be a great launch into discussion about why God made us how He did and related topics. I think this book is extremely relatable for high school students who are often very egocentric and struggle with their own insecurities. - AM