cover image Prettiest Doll

Prettiest Doll

Gina Willner-Pardo. Clarion, $16.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-547-68170-2

Beauty pageants hold a particular fascination in the American consciousness, especially when children are involved. Thirteen-year-old Olivia has been entering—and often winning—pageants in smalltown Missouri since she was three. Her overweight mother happily works two jobs to fund Olivia’s appearances, but Olivia is starting to feel lost and angry behind the heavy makeup and extravagant dresses. When Olivia meets Danny, a 15-year-old runaway headed for Chicago, her discontent boils over, and she decides to join him. Once in Chicago, Danny confronts his long-missing father while Olivia reconnects with her uncle. As the two fall for each other, Olivia must decide whether to return home and continue participating in pageants. Willner-Pardo (The Hard Kind of Promise) gives Olivia a realistically conflicted narrative voice that reveals the immense pressure she is under to perform, her concerns about her mother’s weight and the family’s finances, and her guilt over not sharing her mother’s passion for pageant competition. Olivia’s attraction to moody Danny is perhaps less believable, but her growth is organic and genuine. Ages 9–12. Agent: Jennifer Laughran, Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (Nov.)