• Paperback: 260 pages
• Publisher: Inanna Publications (November 24, 2017)
Winner of an IPPY award – bronze in popular fiction
When twenty-two year old Marla finds herself unexpectedly pregnant, she wishes for a family, but faces precariousness: an uncertain future with her talented, exacting boyfriend, Liam; constant danger from her roommate, Dani, a sometime prostitute and entrenched drug addict; and the unannounced but overwhelming needs of her younger brother, Gavin, whom she has brought home for the first time from deaf school. Forcing her hand is Marla’s fetal alcohol syndrome, which sets her apart but also carries her through. When Marla loses her job and breaks her arm in a car accident, Liam asks her to marry him. It’s what she’s been waiting for: a chance to leave Dani, but Dani doesn’t take no for an answer. Marla stays strong when her mother shows up drunk, creates her own terms when Dani publicly shames her, and then falls apart when Gavin attempts suicide. It rains, and then pours, and when the Bow River finally overflows, flooding Marla’s entire neighbourhood, she is ready to admit that she wants more for her child than she can possibly give right now. Marla’s courage to ask for help and keep her mind open transforms everyone around her, cementing her relationships and proving to those who had doubted her that having a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder does not make a person any less noble, wise or caring.
“Wonderful, heartfelt, heartbreaking–I can’t recommend this novel highly enough.” –Annabel Lyon
“Jennifer Spruit has such a distinct, poignant voice, and her brilliant debut novel A Handbook for Beautiful People highlights this perfectly. Through sharp characters and their complications, a driven narrative develops, enveloping us before we have a chance to judge. Jump into this novel. It will sweep you up.” –Joseph Boyden
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Marla is a 22 year-old waitress/ medical assistant who has had a difficult life. Born to a addicted mother, Marla has partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and her younger brother, Gavin is deaf. Marla bounced around in foster homes and worked as a prostitute until she found a friend in fellow outcast, Dani. Now, Marla and Dani look after each other. Marla is finally beginning to feel like an adult while holding down her two jobs and entering into a relationship with Liam. However, Marla soon finds herself pregnant and looking through the options of abortion, adoption and motherhood. Marla invites Gavin to visit when she is pregnant and getting ready for the arrival of the baby. With Gavin's arrival, she learns that his life has not been easy for him either. Gavin and Dani also enter into a relationship further complicating the balance. Despite everything Marla is doing to keep her head above water, the world has other plans and everything takes a turn for the worse all at once.
A Handbook for Beautiful People provides a raw look into the lives of very real and heartfelt characters. I was very interested in reading a book from the perspective of someone with fetal alcohol syndrome. Marla is an astonishing and well written character. At every turn, Marla's surprised me with her faults, accomplishments, missteps and decisions she was able to make. Though it seemed as if her life were a series of mistakes and drama, Marla was able to shine through. More than once, it seemed as if Gavin might steal the show. Gavin is strong and supportive, but is still working on who he is while being hearing impaired. Gavin's journey was amazing in itself, I think there could be a whole separate story there. My only complaint was that the writing style quickly changed points of view, and it would sometime take me a few sentences to make sense of everything again. The supporting characters around Marla and the events in her life create one big beautiful mess. With twists, turns, breaks, floods, a baby and a decision, Marla's journey is unique and satisfying.
This book was received for free in return for an honest review.
Jennifer Spruit was born in Lloydminster, AB/SK, and now lives in Courtenay, BC. She attended the Creative Writing MFA program at the University of British Columbia. Jennifer enjoys teaching kids, playing music, and paddling a blue canoe. This is her first novel.
Find out more about Jennifer at her website.