In this dystopian but highly recognisable world, girls are divided into two identities: those who follow the doctrine that women are empowered but should still please men at every opportunity and often to their own detriment ‘the pretties’, and those who deliberately ignore the doctrine, known as ‘the objectionables’. The latter often prioritise education over appearance but are often shunned by the rest of society.
At the end of their schooling, there is a celebration known as ‘the ceremony’. It is the objective of ‘the pretties’ to win this event by being declared the most beautiful. Will Belle Gentle win the ceremony as has been her lifelong dream? Or will a new relationship with ‘objectionable’ Joni change her destiny and Joni’s too?
This is a lengthy and often searing discussion of how our society objectifies young women and defines them by their looks. It also talks about how much we have to fight against societal norms if we do not fit the standard mould and the price young women, particularly, can be asked to pay for non-conformity.
Although this view is highly praiseworthy, the section of the novel in which the author explains her position through the character of Joni, reads a little like an essay and so disrupts the narrative flow.
There is a scene which stands out. When Belle’s mother has a cosmetic procedure which goes dangerously wrong, Belle’s fear is palpable. It leaps from the page and is unforgettable.
Every child from Year 10 upwards should read Bourne’s novel. It will encourage them to question some deep-rooted societal norms.