In Katherine Center’s incredible Everyone Is Beautiful, Lanie Coates struggles to find a balance between the myths of marriage, love and passion while dealing with the realities — or the behind-the-scenes — details of adulthood, parenting and reconnecting with ourselves. Lanie is married to her college sweetheart, a man with whom she is desperately in love — and Peter, while a thoughtful partner and loving husband, is a man desperately in love with his music. With their three young sons, Lanie and Peter move from Texas to Cambridge, Massachusetts while Peter teaches classes at a university and works on composing his own songs. Peter is a masterful musician and loves his family dearly, but when it comes down to choosing between the notes and real life, Peter chooses the music every time.
The novel opens with Lanie in a new park with the boys (all under five years old) and follows her adventures trying to keep the kids from biting others or generally causing mayhem. Disoriented after leaving her own parents and extended family behind in her hometown of Texas, Lanie finds herself unexpectedly lonely — and runs into, of all people, an old high school friend. With Amanda, Lanie fends off a woman who innocently asks Lanie “when she’s due,” not realizing that our heroine has simply not yet been able to shed the excess weight from Baby Sam’s birth. Devastated but unwilling to suffer the humiliation of admitting that fact to a perfect stranger, Lanie pretends to be pregnant again — and quickly devises a plan to change her life.
At turns hilarious, heartbreaking and poignant, I devoured this book in two days — I just had to know what happened! Though I’m not yet a wife or mother myself, women everywhere will relate to Lanie balancing the rigorous demands of her family with her own personal dreams. As Peter’s career escalates and takes new turns, Lanie is left to deal with the reality of everything that’s happening behind the scenes — and keep the family stable. But with a college degree and Master’s in art, Lanie begins to wonder when it’s her turn. And who can blame her?
I loved Lanie and rooted for her from beginning to end. Center is a wonderful storyteller, and I loved the fact that while Everyone Is Beautiful could have easily defaulted into a set of cliches — “Love yourself or no one else will,” “Just be who you are,” “Weight does not measure the worth of a person” — it never did. The dialogue was so believable and fun, and I loved the fact that even the Coates boys — Alexander, Toby and Baby Sam — all had such distinct, cute personalities. Usually the young kids in women’s fiction wind up coming off as props or stand-ins, and aren’t fully fleshed-out characters themselves. Not the case here at all! In fact, all of the “peripheral” characters here were great. “Mean Witch” neighbor Nora has her own struggles to face, and just may greet them head-on with the help of landlord Josh; Lanie’s friend Amanda just might have to accept that her organized, vanilla existence isn’t quite so perfect after all.
And Peter and Lanie’s relationship was so . . . authentic. And romantic. It’s so easy to see why they fell in love — and I adored their back story, inserted deftly throughout the novel — but just as easy to see how the passion began to ebb away. While this is a novel about their marriage, sure, it’s just as much about family dynamics and growing up. Though Lanie is a “grown-up” with a family of her own, she doesn’t realize how quickly the transition from child to parent can take place. She misses her own mother deeply, and calls her frequently. It was refreshing to read a book about a close family that isn’t all drama and suffering — just the normal aches and pains of living and changing. Everyone Is Beautiful is really a coming of age story, too.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough — I loved everything about it. I’ll definitely be reading more from Katherine Center!
5 out of 5!