Elizabeth Eulberg once again examines societal pressures, romance and self-perception in her latest book, "Revenge of the Girl With the Great Personality" (Point, $17.99, ages 14 and up). She covers a lot of serious topics, but ultimately it's her depiction of a strong sibling bond that will remain with readers.
Lexi, a high school junior, spends her weekdays sewing sequined costumes and driving her sister, Mackenzie, to dance class. Her weekends consist of applying butt glue and bronzer to 7-year-old Mac.
Their mom rounds out Team Mackenzie. She spends more money than they have trying to make her younger daughter a Texas beauty queen.
Lexi's wasn't always a pageant family. But since their dad left, before Mac was a year old, their mother has been obsessed.
Lexi is always expected to defer to the needs of Team Mackenzie. Her mom even wants her to spend $500 of her savings to buy Mac a new flipper (false teeth).
But that's where Lexi draws the line. That money will fund her escape to a summer program at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City.
Mom accuses Lexi of being jealous of her sister. Mac calls her ugly. True or not, these comments reinforce what Lexi hears, and thinks, about herself. Both her mom and her crush Logan have proclaimed her a girl with a great personality. Lexi knows it's meant as a compliment but believes guys use it only to describe girls who are fat and ugly. This belief seems like a stretch, as Lexi has acknowledged she's not fat or ugly.
Lexi talks over her frustrations with her two best friends. Cam is pretty enough to be part of the in crowd at their high school. But she's also smart, and so she chooses to avoid that group's drama. Occasionally Cam too obviously expresses Ms. Eulberg's opinions on self-acceptance. The reader is led to believe it's because Cam is more experienced with boys, which unfortunately seems to imply that inexperienced girls can't have these same opinions. Overall, though, she's an appealing and engaging addition.
Lexi's other best friend is likewise a bit unconvincing. Benny the Bear is the obligatory gay character, perhaps intended to increase diversity and provide Lexi with progressive cred.
Benny lacks depth as a character. His most memorable trait is his amusing throwback T-shirts ("Charles in Charge," anyone?).
Benny asks Lexi why, if she loves clothes so much, is she always hiding behind messy hair and no makeup. "Don't you think Lexi would look hot if she got all dolled up?" Benny asks.
Luckily Ms. Eulberg doesn't take the easy way out and turn this into just another ugly duckling story where a makeover and a few dates fix everything.
Lexi counters that Benny also hides from the world. They agree to move beyond their comfort zones. She has to talk to a guy. He has to say hi to his crush Chris. The challenge escalates. She has to dress up and wear makeup to school for a week.
She spends two hours getting ready for school the first day. For once, her mother's comment, "Doesn't your sister look beautiful?" refers to Lexi, not Mac.
Walking down the school hallway in a dress for the first time Lexi realizes high school is a lot like a beauty pageant. It seems odd this didn't occur to her before, as she spends every weekend at pageants and works at a clothing store popular with the in crowd.
But, maybe it's not until you're being gawked at that you notice. People comment on Lexi's changed appearance. Her crush talks to her. This new look gives her confidence.
Lexi enjoys her new look and the dates it gets her, but she wonders what will happen when her week of glamming it up ends. She's not planning to go back to being the old Lexi, but she also doesn't want to spend two hours getting ready every day.
Cam gets in some body-positive comments and analysis of "Population Popular." Still, that doesn't balance the "you look so hot" comments Lexi receives from classmates and her crush, so the overall positive message Ms. Eulberg seems to want to convey feels stunted.
The plot spins on. Lexi's mom betrays her trust -- again. Frustrated and angry, she makes some difficult decisions as well as some bad ones.
Ms. Eulberg covers a lot in this book -- beauty standards, body image, divorce, exploitation, hiding your true self, being gay, pageant culture, accepting yourself, empowering yourself. But ultimately, it is the change in the sisters' relationship that makes this book compelling.
Mac no longer wants to compete in pageants, but their mom won't let her quit. The support and solidarity Lexi and Mac provide to one another as they orchestrate a spectacle to ensure Mac will no longer be welcome in the pageant community is empowering. They are finally, hopefully, comfortable with each other and themselves.
Kelly Rottmund is manager of the teen section at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Main Branch in Oakland.