UglyUgly by Margaret McHeyzer

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

What this book is about:

In this story we follow Lily, an almost 18-year-old girl who lives with her abusive (physically and mentally) father. Her mother died some years ago and all Lily has learned from her father is how ugly, incapable, stupid and insignificant she is. On her way back from school one day, she meets a guy named Trent who is the first person ever to tell her she is beautiful. After a particularly nasty night at her father’s house when he was drunk and beat her to unconsciousness, Trent comes to the rescue and brings her to his home to live with his parents. But something is not right about Trent and his family and Lily soon discovers the ugly (see what I did there?) truth about Trent and his father.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again. I don’t think that there is a book out there for which the author hasn’t worked really hard and spent a lot of his/her time making it happen. So it’s very unpleasant for me when I have to give a bad (or negative) review. This book was especially hard to comment on, since it deals with the very delicate issue of domestic violence and abuse in the family context. That said, Ugly contains a lot of graphic scenes of violence, sexual abuse and foul language, so this is something to keep in mind before going into this story.

It’s days like today I wish I was dead.

First of all, I am not an expert in any way on the topic of domestic violence and the opinions that I express in this review are my thoughts on the specific book and do not extend to the very serious and real subject of abuse. That said, one thing I liked about Ugly and I appreciated, was that the author tried to show the effects of the constant psychological abuse on the cognitive schemas of the victim, Lily. How when her father keeps telling her that she is ugly and doesn’t deserve anything, she ends up believing it. How she feels powerless to take her fate into her own hands. How she manipulates her own mind into believing that she deserves being treated like trash and that it’s all her fault. This is called “learned helplessness” and can be observed in many victims of domestic abuse who feel like they cannot control anything bad that happens to them.

A storm is brewing. I’ve known darkness in the past, but this feeling of imminent disaster, of doom, seems right on my doorstep. If I open the door, what will I find?

Still, I do have many “complaints”, let say, about the story. One of my biggest issues is that the book was way too long and for no good reason. It dragged on and on and the pages were filled with sentences that described how Lilly opened the door, sat on the couch, took the blanket, turned the tv on etc.. Step by step, we had to go through Lilly’s precise movements around the house. But why? I actually read an ARC of the book but I believe that in the final version there could be at least 100 pages cut off from the whole story. Sentences like, when someone took a sip of water (I counted at least three of them) or when Lilly went to take a shower (I don’t know how many times that happened!) don’t need to be included in this novel in my opinion. It slows the story down and it ends up being boring and meaningless after a while. Detailed scenes usually lead to a crescendo where something important or exciting happens, but there was no crescendo after the numerous detailed paragraphs in this book. That was just disappointing over and over again.

Is it my destiny only to exist and never live? What kind of legacy can a girl who never was leave behind? Never was pretty, never was smart, never was anything?

Another big issue I had with the story was that many scenes seemed very unrealistic. For example, Lily is constantly told by many strangers and non-strangers how beautiful she is. But in real life, even if you are indeed beautiful, how many people are actually going to approach you and just let you know that they think you are pretty? Moreover, I am not an expert on the statistics of domestic abuse but how is it possible that there are so many different people who are abusers or have been abused in this story? Sounds like a big over-exaggeration to me, going from one abuser to the next again and again.

I walk out with just the clothes on my back, and the sandals on my feet. And my freedom.

On the topic of the novel being unrealistic, Lily is a girl who has been malnurished since the tender age of six. The human brain keeps growing until around 21 years of age. I would expect that with the serious malnutrition that Lilly went through, she would experience some cognitive deficits in memory or attention or executive function or something! But no, Lilly is an extremely intelligent and lucky girl apparently, who makes it on her own and has no trouble finding a job in the exact field she loves at the end. Another thing that made me doubt the validity of the story was how nobody seemed to figure out that Lilly was being abused even though a lot of people actually thought that something was up with her. Just doesn’t make any sense to me!

I was never meant to live. This isn’t a question. This I know absolutely. What’s the point of breathing?

Finally, my last comment is on Lily’s therapy and how she gets over her 25-year-long abuse. Her therapist was very inappropriate and (again using the word) unrealistic. Isn’t the therapist supposed to report abuse to her/his supervisor? I guess the law is different in various countries but still..Moreover, Lilly gets over her issues and moves on with her life way too fast in my opinion. Even though she has been abused her whole life, her faith in men hasn’t faltered one bit and her trust in people is quite strong for a victim of such horrible experiences. All in all, even though the therapy aspect of the story could have been a strong part of the book, it felt to me like the psychologist didn’t help Lilly at all. She was just a very small character that played a minimal role in the whole recovery story.

To sum up, I was quite disappointed by this book. Unfortunately, I don’t have many nice things to say about it. It was just not my type of story and the writing really didn’t do it for me. It does have lot of high ratings and reviews though, so probably others will enjoy it more than I did.

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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