By Natasha Friend
Available now from Viking (Penguin)
MY LIFE IN BLACK & WHITE ended up on the bottom of my June pile because neither the title nor the cover caught my eye. Then I opened the book, read the blurb, and fell in love with the premise. Lexi has always judged herself and been judged based on her beauty. Then her face goes through a windshield. Multiple facial reconstructive surgeries later, Lexi doesn't know who she is or who her friends are.
Lexi's journey is a powerful one. I think I would feel that way even if I wasn't a fan of character-driven books. She's clueless at the beginning, and often self-centered, but never annoying. And she has good qualities from the beginning. She has a strong sense of loyalty to her friends, defending them to her family when they call them shallow and back-stabbing. At first it seems like her family was right all along. After all, Lexi wouldn't have even been in that car if her best friend and boyfriend hadn't betrayed her. It's fascinating to see her go from despair to holding her head high to not worrying about if people are looking.
But MY LIFE IN BLACK & WHITE's greatest strength is the complexity of the characters. Despite the title, this is a book that lives in shades of grey. No one is all good or all bad. Characters might make mistakes, act petty, or otherwise misbehave, but they often own up to their behavior or do something totally unrelated that's valiant. (Be warned that there are some scenes of sexual assault - not rape - and one perpetrator gets away with it.) Sometimes it's just Lexi's perception changing. I loved the moment when she finally realizes that her older sister Ruthie is super cool - something the reader could tell from the beginning.
The romance between Theo and Lexi is well done. It builds slowly, through interaction and shared interests. Many books would just redeem Ryan (the ex) and have him and Lexi get back together. Instead, Natasha Friend both gives Ryan more depth and creates a second love interest who fits better with the more introspective Lexi.
If you're looking for a moving, intelligent contemporary YA, look no further than MY LIFE IN BLACK & WHITE. It's a keeper.